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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2016 Tour Box (2016).

This was the third Tour Box containing material that is similar in spirit, but different in fact to the previous two.

As always, it starts with the Wind extract, the sound of Fripp’s mellotron warming up and a voice saying “I prefer the early ones.”  It segues into a beautiful instrumental of “Moonchild.”  Once again, the lyrics are interesting in the song, but it sounds great without them.

The music stays in somewhat chronological order of release, but often with contemporary versions.  Like the 2015 recording of 1970’s “Peace” (which is okay) and “Pictures Of A City” (which is great).

“Prince Rupert’s Lament” is a two and half-minute guitar solo which has the Toronto crowd from the previous track overlaid, making this recording sound like a live one, when it is in fact an except from the recording session of Lizard.  There’s a rehearsal of the full 10 minute “Islands” from 1971 or so.

Then a “new” song, the two and a half-minute 2014 “Threshold Soundscape” which segues into the 2014 live version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I” which is quite bass heavy.  Up next is a recording session of “Easy Money” without all the bells and whistles.

Then comes two live recordings from 1974.  “Improv I” which is full of gongs and guitars and chaos and segues into “Doctor Diamond.”  This is a song I had never heard before.  It never had an official release and this version seems like they’re just trying it out, like they weren’t really sure about the words, especially.  It’s heavy and  more than a little odd.

After a 30 second clip “From the Drummer’s Stool” which is the a drummer playing the intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” drums, the full song is played from 1974, sounding quite old in the mix.

The second disc continues with all manner of things in no particular order.

There’s more extracts from Lizard, this time a very pretty solo piano version of “Prince Rupert Awakes.”

And them it’s on to a non-Crimson album.  “The Other Man” is an alternate early version of the song from the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles which I don’t know at all.

Next comes “Making Of Discipline,” it’s clips from bulk of the album spliced together into one song.  It’s very nifty.  There’s a demo instrumental of “Walking on Air” and then a three-minute live track called “Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind).”

There’s a demo of “Meltdown” (with guide vocals) and then a 40 second clip “From the Drummers’ Stools I” and a 20 second clip “From The Guitarist’s Stool I” which is part of the 21CSM solo.

Then comes some heavy stuff.  “The ConstruKction Of Light” live from 2014 with no vocal tag at the end followed by the bizarre Beatles mashup “Tomorrow Never Knew/Thela” live from 2000.

There another sample “From the Drummers’ Stools II” this one from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I” which is followed by “Nuages” (which I read as Nu-ages.  It’s trippy with bouncy bass

There’s a 2014 recording of the slow, jazzy “The Light Of Day” also originally from Scarcity of Miracles. It’s followed by a Lizard excerpt “From The Guitarist’s Stool II” and then a fast complicated 40 second 2014 soundcheck for “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I.”

Moving away from that classic business, we jump to a new mix of “Dinosaur” from THRAK.  It’s followed by a final 45 second “From The Drummers’ Stools III” and then concluding with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This version is from 2000 and I find it kind of weak, especially compared to the powerhouse versions they would unleash later.

Overall there’s some cool stuff on this box, but I feel like there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not quite my Crimson taste.

[READ: January 12, 2018] The Nix

The Nix received some pretty positive reviews and I was quite interested to read it–even though I had no idea what it was really about.  It’s not until nearly page 100 that we find out what the title even means.

The Nix (in the story, not the novel itself) is a ghost story from Norway.  The protagonists’s mother heard about The Nix from her Norwegian father.  The Nix was a horse.  It encouraged you to ride it.  When you did, it never stopped running until it ran off a cliff with you on it.  In modern terms, The Nix is a person–usually someone you think you love. Someone who will leave you.

Summarizing the book is either really easy or something of a challenge depending on how many aspects you want to include.

The book more or less follows one man–starting with his failing writing career and then flashing back to how he got where he is.  That sounds pretty dull, but the book is set on the backdrop of contemporary America–from the rebellions of hippie parents to the rebellions of the 99%ers.

There’s also these wonderful subplots that prop up the main story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”

LETTERS

GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BIDINIBAND-The Carleton, Halifax, NS (February 13, 2015).

This is the most current solo show from anybody on the RheostaticsLive webpage.

Bidiniband’s third album came out in 2014 and this show chooses from it pretty heavily.

The show starts (Dave sounds either like he has a bit of a cold or he’s just worn out) with Dave saying “We’re going to start with a song about the cold, because it is.  Fucking snow, eh  Wow.”  “The Grey Wave” has great chord changes in the chorus.  It is a slow folkie song about cold and snow.  I like that he whispers “let’s go” before the buzzy but quiet solo.  The chorus comes out of that fairly rocking (a least for this set).

Dave continues, “I have some news.  Last night I was offered cocaine in the bathroom of the Alehouse.”  (Don, on drums, whispers, “in exchange for what?”).  Dave: “I think the guy just wanted to be my friend.  He was a bit of an asshole.  Cocaine is the one drug I think where when people offer it to you and when you say no, they apologize for having assumed you wanted any.”

Someone else notes: “I like that we’re the rock band from Toronto and we’re the ones shocked by all the drugs everyone is doing.  We were in BC and we were shocked at the big jug of MDMA being passed around.”

“Everyday Superstar” is a rocking, swinging song.  I love that the chorus is “I’m an animal out of control” but it’s kind of slow and mellow and at one point he says “its true.” And there’s this lyric: “When it’s hot, I’m gonna be Bon Scott you be Lita Ford.”  At the end of the song, someone asks, “Does everybody in the house know what bass face is?  You never know when Haddon is going to a picture of you with that face.”  Dave tells a story that Haddon Strong had a subscription to a magazine and it was addressed to Hardon Strong.

Introducing “My First Rock Concert” he says, “this is a song about music.  I bet you think it’s ‘Proud Mary’ but it’s not.  That was done last night.”  He sings it kind of whispering/spoken.   In the middle, Paul plays the riff to “Brown Eyed Girl” while Dave is singing “you’re either a mouse or Steven Page.”

“Take A Wild Ride” is s short song that segues at the same fast tempo into “The List” which is, again, almost spoken.  He throws in some other people who have made the list.  Jian Ghomeshi and Joel Plaskett (he was in Thrush Hermit) and at the end he says, “only kidding about Joel.”

“Big Men Go Fast On The Water” is a great-sounding song–in this version, the guitar riffs between verses sound like Boston.  They played this song last night at “Stolen from a Hockey Card” at the Spats Theater.  Dave was disappointed there were no spats there.  He says, “If I’ve over pattering, just tell me.”

We wrote this song “Bad Really Bad” about the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Three chords and the truth.

“In The Rock Hall” is about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland from a poem written by Paul Quarrington  Once again he almost whispers, “C’mon Halifax, let’s rock.”   About “Ladies of Montreal,” he says, “I didn’t think there were enough songs in indie rock well, elderly indie rock, independent seniors, about beautiful women… boobs, you know.  It came in a dream.  I had to write it.”  Dave says it is sexist although I don’t exactly know what he’s saying with the French words.

Getting ready to play “The Motherland Part 1,” he asks, “Jerry you brought your flute, did you?  Oh fuck’s sake.  It’s okay. I think I told you last night but we were both pretty hammered.”  “The Fatherland” is “a heavy metal political song…political metal… politometal.”  It totally rocks and at the end Dave says “I don’t understand, the dancing girl left and we’re playing our most uptempo tunes.”  Before they complete the trilogy with “The Motherland Part 2” someone in the band asks, have you got the cocaine?–its pure MDMA.  Don rehashes the story about him throwing up at a party in the closet because of hot knives.  The middle of Part 2 really rocks.

“Last Of The Dead Wrong Things” is quieter for sure but the chorus and backing vocals are great.  Where there’s usually a drum solo there’s a kind of quiet freak out.

He says, “we’re going to do one more” (boo) …well how many more do you deserve?  Seventeen, eh, you have a very inflated view of yourself.”

“We’ll do ‘Fat,’ (a song “by Rheostatics band”), it has similar chord shapes don’t hold that against us.  Did I tell you we were playing this one?”  “Would it matter?” Let’s have a round of applause for Kevin Lacroix on the bass and Don Kerr on the drums.  Paul Linklater on guitar.

“We played with Corb Lund yesterday, from Alberta.  He’s very handsome and very accomplished.  “Really really handsome.”  Kevin: “I made out with him.”  Dave: “I made out with a guy who I thought was Corb but who was really the cleaning guy for the hotel….  Last night on this very stage he intoned, he evoked the name of Washboard Hank Fisher….  You’re not going are you, it’s going to be a good song.”  They have Lots of fun with “The Midnight Ride Of Red Dog Ray”  with over the top backing vocals.  And in the solo, we get Paul Linklater, one more time pickin’ and grinnin.’

Before the next song Dave says, “What are you guys laughing at?  I can see you in the mirror, you know.  This is my favorite club coz I can watch my rock moves, they’re top ranked.”  Don:  “That’s actually Dave’s mirror, he brings it to every club and says that.  It’s embarrassing.”  Dave mentions a famous story (doesn’t know who it’s about) about a heavy metal singer who was hammered and he saw the guy in the mirror and thought he was mocking him.  So he challenged him to a fight.  That’s rock n roll.”

“You got a weak bladder Jerry?  I’ve got a weak bladder, too.  I’ve peed myself twice during this set.”

This is an album by Bidiniband called The Motherland.  It’s a delicious record and I’d like you to buy it.  All of you.  It’s only $10.  Produced in Toronto in a studio  … by professionals.  Trained professional sounds.  Nothing like what you’re hearing tonight.

There’s a great buzzy bass sound on “Desert Island Poem” which is “a funny song about cannibalism.”  Dave gets pretty crazy at the end.

It segues into a wonderful surprise of them playing”Queer.”  And then a terrific version of “I Wanna Go To Yemen” with a fun wild sliding solo.

He wishes everyone a good night and they leave for a few seconds.  “If we take a break we probably won’t play anymore.  But that was break…  We probably should have taken a longer break and milked it more… but we didn’t.”

“Do people who come to lean along the bar are they into the music?”  Kevin: “Those are some of the best people in Halifax…but the creme d la creme starts right here.”

Jerry didn’t find his flute did he?  Dave asks for a hand for the opening act, Communism Music, look them up

The first encore is the hilariously offensive song “Take A Bath Hippie.”   Sample verses:  “This ain’t the 1960s / These are brand new modern times / everyone is equal and everyone is doing fine,”  “Your revolution ended the day Trudeau retired.  A land of Stephen Harper… we got the country we desired.”   He asks, “You guys got hippies out here?  Probably not. You got Buddhists.  That’s just as bad.  They lie around in their robes  eating flowers.  Shaving each other’s heads.  Sacrificing a goat here and there.”

 We’re all getting G&Ts?  Thank you people of the night.  Kevin: “Treating us all equally?  Like my parents.  My parents would bring us all something she wouldn’t bring me a G&T without bringing one to my sister.”  Dave: They were saints.

FYI, tomorrow, there is Hockey Day in Canada–a ton of games on and footage from the concert last night with Theoren Fleury, Rich Aucoin, Buck 65, Miranda Mulholland, and the ever handsome Corb “The Boner” Lund and The Barra MacNeils.  Dave did a short movie about John Brophy, that’s gonna be on.  “Fuck, it’s Saturday… just sit at home and watch hockey.  It’s what we are supposed to do.  If you don’t, Stephen Harper will have your ass.  But I’ll save you because I’m the hockey guardian.  No I’m not, I’m just tired.”

We’ll try to do one last song.  Have we done “Take a Bath Hippie?”  We’ll save it for next time.  I’m trying to not do a typical show closer tune.

Last gig Kevin played with this band he was playing drums.   I guess it didn’t go well because he’s been demoted to bass. (ha ha).  Dave: “You’ve got the best bass player joke about what happened to Gordie Johnson.”  Kevin: “oh no that’s just nasty.”  Dave “You’re right, its for later in the washroom when were doing coke.”

They play a surprising “Stolen Car.”  It’s so weird to hear Dave sing this song (which he wrote)–he whisper sings it (and can’t really hit the notes).  It segues into a folkie
“Legal Age Life -> Do You Wanna Dance -> Legal Age Life” with them singing, “Oh yeah music is fun.  Friends are fun.  Rock n roll is fun.  Sloppy and fun.”  They end with a Johnny Cash line get rhythm when you get the blues.

Who would have guessed that just seven months later Rheostatics would reunite?

[READ: November, December 2017 & January 2018] West End Phoenix

West End Phoenix is a newly created newspaper.  It was inspired by Dave Bidini.

I have loved just about all of the music that Bidini has created (with Rheostatics and Bigdiniband) and I have loved just about all of the books he has written.  So why wouldn’t I love a newspaper created by him?  Well, possibly because it serves a community that I do not live in and have very likely never visited.  That’s right, this is a community newspaper for a community that isn’t even in my country.

And it is terrific.

But why on earth would I want to read it?  Can I really like Bidini that much? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKATING POLLY-Fuzz Steilacoom (2014).

“Ugly pop” is how Skating Polly describes their music.  And it’s a pretty good descriptor.  Their music is loud and brash and the two members can both sing pretty and scream loudly.

Both Kelli Mayo & Peyton Bighorse play drums and guitar and piano and they alternate for different songs.  Kelli’s instrument is more of a bassitar–a bass with just a couple of strings on it.

How on earth do they make such a big sound with such limited equipment?  And how do they write such great songs?

I guess at this point it’s worth mentioning that Kelli and Peyton are stepsisters and, when they made this album in 2014, Kelli was 14 and Peyton was all of 19.  How, then do they make music that sounds like a perfect continuation of the riot grrrl 90s?  Catchy, with lot of distortion and a whole lot of pogoing.

The other fascinating thing about these songs is that they are short.  You’d assume that fast punky songs–with only two instruments and no guitar solos!–would barely clock in at 3 minutes.  But these songs are almost all 3 and a half, some pushing four minutes.

“Alabama Movies” has a cool staggered riff with a high bass note that stands out in a really cool way. The song is smooth and rocking until the chorus where Kelli lets her shriek flag shine and the song totally rocks.  “Scummy Summer” has a very different sound–more tinny and guitar-based–including a moment mid-song when all of the fuzz drops out and it’s just a clean guitar and simple drums.  I’m assuming that this is a Peyton song.  They trade-off styles like this throughout the album–some heavier, some lighter, but pretty consistently with a lot of distortion.

“Ugly” really shows off what they can do.  Opening with some acoustic guitar and whispered vocals, the rest of the song follows a rumbling bass line and thumping drums:

I wear my face just like my skin
Dried up, paint-free, and authentic
I let my hair just soak up grease
I brush it with my fingers, see?

and then this more disturbing third section, in which they don’t hold back:

Suzy went to school this morning
Suzy went to class this morning
Suzy was loudly droning
Suzy told the class her story
You can look in the mirror
Might not like what you see
You can try to change it
But you’ll always be ugly
And you’ll always be nothing

They mix up some of their style even more with songs like “Break Your High” which is almost fast folk.   This one has a waltz beat and acoustic guitars.  The rest of the album plays with these dynamics in interesting ways.

They sisters are very impressive with their tightness-t-hey stop on a beat and change styles mid-song as easily.

I’m a little underwhelmed by the production of the record.  Specifically the drums, which sound like they are made of cardboard.  The guitars (especially Kelli’s bass heavy one) sound great though.

The final song, “A Little Late” throws everything out the window and shows a totally different side of the band.   It’s a five-minute piano song with the lyrics sung in a round–both Kelli and Peyton singing over and over each other.  It’s really interesting and quite catchy. the way the song slowly builds, adding new instruments.  There’s a lot of components to the song, but I especially like:

Chase away the thoughts that make you hate
‘Cause hate does not create
And hate at best will just keep you a little late, a little late

This was their third album.  I have yet to hear their earlier two, but their follow-up was pretty outstanding.

[READ: October 17, 2017] Brave

Tabitha chose to read this book because she really liked Awkward.  It takes place in the same universe, and I love that the characters from Awkward make a cameo.

Peppi (Penelope) is back in this story but she is a very minor character.  Indeed, the book says that there will be more books set in Berrybrook Middle School presumably with many different characters in the lead.

This story follows Jensen, an overweight, socially awkward, not-terribly-bright boy who has anxieties but generally doesn’t feel that he is being picked on (he is).

Peppi is part of the art club and that’s where Jensen finds some friends, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: XFM-It’s a Cool Cool Christmas (2000).

This is a long Christmas collection (about 72 minutes).  So it’s a bit hit and miss.  But the hits are pretty great.  The problem really is that the disc gets a little bogged down and slow in the back half.  The first half is bright and fun.  Either re-sequnce or add in some peppier songs!  There are a couple that just don’t belong on a Christmas collection.  Remove them, and you’ve got a good one.

GRANDADDY-“Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland”
I’ve loved this version of this song ever since I heard it here.  By making the simple substitution of Alan Parsons for Parson Brown (which doesn’t make any sense, really), they are able to make all kinds of weirdo jokes and musical changes to an otherwise completely faithful version of the song.  It’s terrific.

THE DANDY WARHOLS-“Little Drummer Boy”
Generally I don’t like this song.  It’s a little too ponderous and repetitive, but The Dandy Warhols totally rock it out.  It’s not crazy or anything, it’s just super catchy with a cool synth riff and great backing vocals on the “bum bum bum bums.”

THE WEBB BROTHERS-“Every Day is Christmas”
I feel like this compilation is the first I’d heard of this song, but since then I see that others have done it as well.  This version anyway is slow although it’s catchy–particularly the chorus.  I’m not sure I get exactly what the chorus is saying though: “every day is Christmas, if only tonight,”  What does that mean>

EELS-“Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas”
This is a poppy punky track that’s upbeat and fun.  Just before the solo E (the singer) even mutters, “Baby Jesus, born to rock.”

El VEZ-“Feliz Navi-nada”
One of my favorite Christmas songs–rocking and silly but with the spirit still in tact.

MORGAN-“Christmas In Waikiki” [NSFC]
This track opens with a Merry Christmas to the soldiers, in what sounds like Marilyn Monroe’s voice.  It then turns into a keyboard-heavy, almost reggae march through a wah wah instrumental.  Then there’s a quote from, I assume Richard Pryor, who jokes about a 300 pound honky.  This f-bomb dropping joke makes this not safe for Christmas.

DRUGSTORE-“Maybe At Christmas Time”
This a slow song filled with hope for Christmas.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
I have always been puzzled at the way they change the melody of the song–they sing the “and random captive” part without a pause, so the first line runs right through.  It feels rushed, but is anything but.  Once you get past that though the music sounds lovely with those gentle guitars and voices.”

GIANT SAND-“Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You” [NSFC]
This is kind of a dark song, spooky and whispered vocals.  Even if there is a happy message, it’s not really a very festive song.

THE FLAMING LIPS-“White Christmas” [NSFC]
Despite my love for The Lips, I never cared for this version.

SAINT ETIENNE-“My Christmas Prayer” [NSFC]
A pretty, moody piece of longing.  Not really anything I want to hear on Christmas.

DEPARTURE LOUNGE-“Christmas Downer” [NSFC]
This is surprisingly catchy for such a downer.  But it is indeed a downer.

SIX BY SEVEN-“I Believe In Father Christmas”
Things pick up with this version of the dark, but wonderful Greg Lake song.

SNOW PATROL-“When I Get Home For Christmas”
This seems like its kind of dark and mopey, bu the sentiment is actually quite nice.  Sounds a bit like Sebadoh.

TITÁN-“Spiritual Guidance” [NSFC]
Titán are a Mexican electronic band.  This instrumental samples a movie which has a guy telling a young woman to remove her panties.  It’s a shame it gets dark like that because the disco Jingle Bells in the middle is good fun.

BIG BOSS MAN-“Christmas Boogaloo”
This is a groovy, funky instrumental with random chants about Christmas.  Its good fun indeed.

TEENAGE FANCLUB-“Christmas Eve”
This is a beautiful guitar based mostly instrumental.  It’s a lovely piece and far too short at only 2 minutes.

CALEXICO-“Gift X-change”
Despite Calexico’s usually bright sound, this song is pretty sad, musically and lyrically.

GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI-“Hwiangerdd Mair”
This is a very pretty song which, if Google Translate is to be believed actually means Mary’s Halloween in Welsh.  But whatever.  Gorky’s always has a great way with a melody.

LOW-“Just Like Christmas”
I actually thought this was Aimee Mann singing. Despite Low’s penchant for slow, broody songs, this one is upbeat, even if it wasn’t just like Christmas at all.  But the big thumping drums keep it moving along nicely.

LAUREN LAVERNE-“In The Bleak Midwinter”
This sounds like a children’s choir very far away.  I’d never heard of her before and I have learned: Lauren Cecilia Fisher, known professionally as Lauren Laverne, is an English radio DJ, model, television presenter, author, singer and comedian.  Wow.  This is pretty neat but could use a bit more oomph.

[READ: December 15, 2017] “The Copy Chief”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I had to play catch up with these earlier stories because this collection arrived late (my fault, not theirs).  I put this one off because it was so long, and yet it turned out to be one of my favorite stories in the collection so far.

Not because of anything flashy or exciting, just because of good writing and compelling characters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Phish Downloads 5.8.93 UNH Fieldhouse, Durham, NH (2007).

This concert was recorded on my birthday.  Although I wasn’t there (and wasn’t even really a fan at the time).  This is the last show of the tour, so they thank the crew and have a lot of fun with that.  This is a great 3 CD set because there’s a lot of strong bonus material at the end of disc 3.

The set opens with a rocking “Chalk Dust Torture” and segues into a really tight “GuelahPapyrus”—I love how they can start and stop in total synch.  There’s great harmonies on “Rift” and a perfect tempo-change into “Mound.”

Then comes a jamming 12 minute “Stash” with a lot of bass sections.  It segues into the delightfully bizarre “Kung” and then returns to “Stash” for another minute before switching to “Glide.”  “Glide” has more great harmonies with a very long pause (over a minute of silence, which gets the crowd excited) before ending the song. It’s followed by a great version of “My Friend, My Friend” that segues into a 13 minute Reba.”  Trey thanks the crew and everyone for the tour after which they play a very jazzy “Satin Doll.”

The first set ends with a blistering “Cavern.”

Set Two opens with a minute of “David Bowie” before Page turns it into a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” (including a Simpsons’ “D’oh”).  “David Bowie” returns with a 10 minute jam–no solos, just the band rocking–before mellowing out into a reggae version of “Have Mercy” by The Mighty Diamonds.   That two-minute slow down is followed by a scorching soloing conclusion to “David Bowie.”

They take a kind of break with “The Horse,” an acoustic guitar piece for Trey (It’s very pretty and one of the few times I’ve heard him play acoustic).  It turns into a great “Silent in the Morning.”  There’s a nearly 10 minute “It’s Ice” in which each player really stands out—Mike’s bass, Fish’s drums, Page’s keys—everyone is highlighted in this quirky staccato version which segues perfectly into a 16 minute “Squirming Coil.”

There’s a great jam in this song with a lengthy piano solo.  The ending is wildly erratic and weird (and I suppose is technically a “Big Ball Jam”) as they continue to jam for a few extra minutes before launching into “Mike’s Song.”  Like “Bowie,” “Mike’s Song” is broken up to include a bluesy cover of “Crossroads” with lots of piano soloing.  It segues back into the end of “Mike’s Song” which doesn’t really sound like an end to the song.  But it’s followed by a pretty “I am Hydrogen” which launches into a great, funky bass roaring “Weekapaug Groove.”

Towards the end of “Groove,” Page stars playing “Amazing Grace and as it softens up, the band sings a quiet a capaella version of the song.  And then the launches into a jamming version to end the set.

The encore is a loose “AC/DC Bag” for a nice end to the tour.

The Bonus songs include “Shaggy Dog” from the 5/8/93 soundcheck. It’s just guitar and voices with good harmonies.

“Tweezer” and “Tela” come from 5/6/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.  “Tweezer” is totally rocking and 19 minutes long.  There’s a bass-filled jam in the start and it gets dark and a little crazy in the middle.  It slows way down to just one drum and one bass note and then segues nicely into a very pretty “Tela.”

The final bonus track is a crazy 32 minute “You Enjoy Myself” from 5/5/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.   It features special guests Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit as well as the Dude of Life.  There’s a funky middle section of 3 to 5 note motifs repeated.  There’s a lengthy bass solo—just Mike.  It segues into a series of descending riffs until more percussion comes in and someone (Dude?) is talking (incomprehensibly) into the microphone.  Then comes bongos and horns.  I believe there’s even a vacuum solo.  The end of the song has a jazzy scat sing along with the guitar and some rally heavy drums at the end.

On many of the discs, the bonus material is sort of interesting to have but on this one, the “Twezer,” “Tela” and YEM” are outstanding in and of themselves.

Here’s a longer essay about this show by Kevin Shapiro.

[READ: May 8, 2017] The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories

It’s always weird to read posthumous stories, especially if you’ve been a fan of the author for years.  But like the previous collection Dragons at Crumbling Castle, this book collects stories from when Terry was a young lad (between 1966 and 1973) in the Children’s Circle of the Bucks Free Press. He says that they are as they were except that he tinkered here and there with a few details and added a few lines or notes, “just because I can.”

There are 13 stories in the book, and they explore variations on Pratchett’s themes like that the unfamiliar is not the enemy (necessarily) and that people can and often will be surprised by how others react to things.  He also has  a story idea that would blossom into the Carpet People stories later on.

“The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner” (1970)
This begins with a great premise: “Uncle Ron Swimble, the magician, enjoyed performing at parties. He did lots of simple tricks and the kids enjoyed him.  But when he went to his most recent party, things went awry.  But in a way that the kids loved: when his hat fell off, three rabbits jumped out.  And when he bent over a flock of pigeons flew out from under his coat.  The kids were delighted.  But Ron was the most surprised because he had no rabbits or birds in his act.  Every time he moved his hands something vanished or appeared.  It was crazy.  Then they figured out that Uncle Ron had knocked over Mrs Riley’s vacuum cleaner.  And as all the kids knew (but the adults didn’t seem to ) Mrs Riley was a witch.  The resolution to this story was really delightful. (more…)

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