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Archive for the ‘Oddities’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-“The Want” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 24, 2017).

It’s always interesting to hear someone with a big hairy beard sing in high falsetto, and that’s just what Hakim does here.

This song is very simple with twinkling synths and programmed beasts all underneath Hakim’s delicate voice.  The blurb introduces Hakim to those of us who don’t know him:

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW’s Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

“The Want” will appear on Hakim’s full-length debut, Green Twins, but for now, this solo version is only backed by Mellotron and the reverb’d rhythms of what sounds like a Casio preset. It’s soul music for outer-space, performed in a room that looks like outer-space.

This blurb makes this song sound a lot more trippy than it actually is.  To me, the only psychedelic bit is one harp line.  Otherwise it sounds like a very spare, echoing, simple song.  The end does add some interesting layers of sound, but maybe the recorded version is more trippy.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kith

I didn’t really love book one in this series.  I enjoyed the premise, but found the execution flawed–both in the “script” and to an extent in the drawings–there a bunch of characters who all look vaguely similar.  But I did like it enough to want to read Book 2.

There’s a handy recap that catches us up.

Then we see Rue sad because of her sullen boyfriend who might be breaking up with her.  But he’s a dick anyhow as are most of the characters, frankly.

About 30 pages in something interesting happens when they discover a knife in a tree. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Smoke Signals” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 22, 2017).

Bridgers’ “Smoke Signals” is a beautiful haunting song that reminds me a little of Liz Phair in her delivery.  I had heard this song before and really liked it–I especially loved the arrangement, which had echoing guitars that reminded me of Twin Peaks.

“For this Tiny Desk, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen’s hotel room just before midnight to play the striking ‘Smoke Signals.'”  The music is great with Bridgers’ open chords, and Vore’s suitcase percussion, children’s toy bells and vocal harmony.  The cho and vibe are removed in this version which means you must really listen to the words–which are pretty intense.

I like how she talks about musicians in such an interesting way:

Singing ‘Ace of Spades’ when Lemmy died / nothing’s changed LA’s alright

and then later

Its been on my mind since Bowie died/ just checking out to hide from life

The toy bells and harmonies are a really nice touch, but again, it’s those lyrics:

I went with you up to
The place you grew up in
We spent a week in the cold
Just long enough to
“Walden” it with you
Any longer, it would have got old

This song is a little too slow for my preferences, but it’s very beautiful. I’d like to hear more from her.

[READ: February 5, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kin

This book was on the new shelf at my library.  And since I like Black and Naifeh I was grabbed it.  Then I saw that it actually came out in 2008. Whatever.

It also turns out that my library has book two of this trilogy but neither had book 3 (which came out in 2010).  What gives?

Holly Black is best known (by me anyway) as having written The Spiderwick Chronicles.

This story is actually a YA graphic novel and it definitely skews older.  But like Spiderwick, it deals with a normally unseen world coming into contact with out own. (more…)

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melvin3-cover_SOUNDTRACKCREOLE CHOIR OF CUBA-Tiny Desk Concert #192 (February 6, 2012).

creoleThis concert was something of a surprise for me.  The blurb seems to think that it should be a surprise, especially if you are familiar with Cuban music.  I’m not, so I’m even more surprised.

Just when you think you know Cuban music, along comes the Creole Choir of Cuba. This group sprang from the ashes of Grupo Vocal Desandann, a small vocal outfit created in the late 1990s to celebrate traces of Haitian culture in eastern Cuba.  That history dates back to the late 18th century, when slaves from Haiti were delivered to Cuba to harvest sugarcane after successful slave revolts in Haiti. A long-lost culture was revitalized by the group through music performed largely a cappella and entirely in Haitian Creole.

As with other forms of music associated with the African diaspora, The Creole Choir of Cuba’s work resonates with songs of resistance and celebration of community life, which offered hope and relief from the bitter realities of slavery.

The choir sings three pieces.  And it’s cool the way it is a choir for certain, but that they throw elements into it that are not normally associated with choirs.  For “Marasa Elu” their voices are beautiful, with a great bass voice underpinning the soaring lead voice.  It’s fairly astonishing that she starts to cry at the end of the song (whether fake or not it’s hard to tell).

“Ayiti Krye” has a different lead singer with a very different voice.–although the rest of the choir still sounds great with her.  It comes as quite a surprise about half way through the song when the drums and percussion come in–it really changes the feel of the song and of this choir.  Suddenly the piece is a more dancey song, especially as the percussion picks up speed.  A guy with a wonderfully raspy voice takes over lead.  And the rest of the group really starts to get into it–dancing and singing a beautiful backing vocal that sounds much less like a choir and more like a Cuban dance song.

For “Lumane Casimir” the first singer is back.  There are quiet congas keeping the beat.  While the backing vocals sound a lot like a choir, the lead singer sounds more like a conventional singer.  By the end, they are having a ton of fun and she invites two of the audience members to dance with her (including Felix, the host).  And as any music like this should, the end of the song introduces a whistle keeping a beat.

This is a very different kind of choir–at once sacred and fun.

[READ: January 22, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 3

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  This book contains the final Melvin Monster comics.  The title page says “Collected from the issues seven to nine of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).

In the first issue of the book, Baddy tries to get Melvin a job as a babysitter.  The baby is actually a huge giant which leads to all kinds of amusing scenes of Melvin fleeing from the giant.  Although Stanley was never concerned about being PC, the fact that he set his strip in Monsterville certainly allowed him to get a way with a lot of rather un-PC dialogue.

I’m not sure why Stanley only made nine issues (if it was Dell’s decision or his), but there’s a lot of repetition in the premises.  Melvin trying to go to the school and Ms McGargoyle not allowing him in is a very common joke.  Although in fairness, she does think up many new ways to keep Melvin away.

Little Horror is always a fun character.  In this one she does a spell which turns Melvin into a half frog.

There’s a joke about Cleopatra, the family’s alligator, trying to eat him. And the one with Damon constantly giving him bad advice would be funny whether they were monsters or not.

“Blackout” is an interesting strip as it shows Baddy getting ready to watch wrestling –“the first four rows of human bean lady fans armed with cement filled handbags an shish kabob skewers.”

Book 8 opens with “Supermonster” in which a huge monster living nearby is getting ready to destroy Monsterville.  And it’s up to Melvin to help out.

I enjoyed seeing him integrating snow into a few of these strips (although not sequentially in any way).  There’s a good one that involves digging to the school.  There’s a short one that involves Little Horror breaking ice with her high-pitched shriek and another short one with a giant snowball (that I don’t quite get).

Speaking of un-PC, there’s an entire story that involves a Native American totem pole monster–I guess since it’s a monster its okay, although the way it talks is pretty awful.

Book 9 starts with a monster that frightens Baddy.  I enjoy that Baddy is actually quite a coward despite his size and demeanor).

Little Horror returns with a broken magic wand which is pretty fun.  The punchline where a tiny Baddy is afraid of Mummy is outstanding .

I also really enjoyed the way that McGargoyle got rid of Melvin in the final schoolhouse joke–by having him learn C-A-T and B-A-T and then telling him he graduated.  Of course Melvin redefines high school for us all.

The final strip in the book is the one I knew from the D&Q 25th anniversary book.  In it, Melvin drinks a potion that turns him into a normal-looking boy. Which would of course freak out the whole family.

I also like that the final pages of this book include all of the original covers from the Dell comics (12 cents each!)

I’m fascinated at the publishing schedule of these issues

  • Apr-Jun
  • Jul-Sept
  • October
  • December
  • July
  • October
  • January
  • Apr
  • May
  • August

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all though is his biography which states that John Stanley “bitterly left comics sometime in the late 1960s never to return.”  Woah, I want to hear more about that!

Maybe when I read the Nancy books.

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melvin2-cover_SOUNDTRACK: GLENN JONES-Tiny Desk Concert #188 (January 23, 2012).

glennI’d never heard of Glenn Jones.  The blurb says that he only recently took up the banjo (which I assume means he has played the guitar for a long time?).  Also, how funny is it  that there are two banjo players in a row.

Jones plays 3 instrumental pieces  “Tinka Marie” is a very pretty banjo instrumental (although I can’t help but feel that his high string is slightly out of tune—I find it a little jarring throughout the song).  The banjo also sounds very compressed or tight or something.  It’s unusual especially when compared to the expansive sound of the guitar in the other two songs.

Before “The Great Pacific Northwest,” he says that if he plays it right, “Mt. Rainier should burst right through the floor of this room.” He has a very interesting playing style.  He has capoed the three bass strings, but not the higher strings.  He then plays chords up and down the fretboard (leaving the capo where it is).  The beginning of this song is a series of slowly played chords, which allow each individual string to sound.  Then it picks up as he begins playing fast finger-picked (with a  thumb pick for the bass strings) melodies.

“Of Its Own Kind” continue with that half capo style and finger picking.  It has a really lovely melody, as do all three.

[READ: January 17, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 2

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  The title page says “Collected from the issues four to six of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).   (more…)

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melvin1-cover_SOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

schepThis quartet is somewhat unusual in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo (Schepps plays banjo).  And so the songs have a classical feel–in that there are many melodies repeated in a fugue style–and yet with the prominence of the banjo, the violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough.  But it’s the story of the music that they are playing which is also very cool:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

With fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison — Schepps wedged behind Bob Boilen’s desk for a Bartók hoe-down of sorts. Bartók’s music provides the bedrock, but Schepps and company slip away for jazzy solos and off-the-cuff tangents. It’s an intriguing goulash of bluegrass, Bartók and bebop.

They play three pieces.  The first is Bartók (arr. Flinner): Romanian Folk Dances – “Stick Game.”  This begins as a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group–the guitar takes a lengthy solo.  It’s got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is kind of neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is laying.

The second piece is Bartók (arr. Schepps): For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes) – “Stars, Stars Brightly Shine.”  This is a slower  tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful

The final piece is Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps): Mikrokosmos No. 78 / “Cousin Sally Brown.”  Before this track, when someone tells him that No 78 is his favorite he says that he “prefers 79.”  Although the bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial, to much amusement.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally Brown,” a rollicking dance number.  The guitar gets a pretty length solo and then the four seem to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and then they all join back together for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: January 19, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 1

February starts children’s month here.  Partially it’s because we can all use the good messages and kindness that children’s books offer.  But also because some of the books that I’m going to post about have been sitting in queue for over a year.  So let them see the light of day.

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  The title page says “Collected from the first three issues of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).

So the premise of this strip is that Melvin Monster is a nice, good boy.  But he is raised by literal monsters.  Melvin wants to do what normal human kids do, but his parents Baddy and Mummy want him to be more disrespectful and monstrous.

The characters are Melvin Monster, Baddy (his father), Mummy (his mom) and Cleopatra their pet crocodile who wants to eat Melvin.  There are a few other recurring characters as well, like the witch and

Even though these books were first, I read them second.  And I have to say I enjoyed the long form of these stories a bit more than the short stories of the later issues.  Although interestingly the very first strips are short and don’t establish the character at all. They are just thrown right on to the page.  Well, it does actually establish that Melvin is a disappointment to his Baddy because he wants to go to school (his father played hooky for 8 years straight).

The next strip sees him going to school and other monsters trying to beat him up for wanting to go.  That’s when his demon guardian Damon shows up, although he calls him Medwick rather than Melvin–this mixed up identity results in some good jokes later on.  Ultimately Melvin winds up accidentally blowing up the school which makes his parents very proud.

The next strip continues right where the previous one left off, with Melvin sailing through the air after the explosion.  He winds up in Human Being Land where everybody treats him very badly–and he thinks it’s so nice that they want him to feel at home.

The next book focuses on the door in the cellar. His parents get mad at him and send him to the cellar.  They never go there, but milkmen and mailmen love it so much they have never come out.   When Melvin is down there he opens a secret door.  The path leads him to the subway which is pretty funny.  Incidentally in this book it is called Humanbeansville.  Through his good intentions, he breaks up a crime ring and flies home

I enjoyed that the following story introduces us to Little Horror but also continues with Baddy’s adventures in the basement hole.

Some funny scenes include him being captured by a zoo, where a specialist on monsters comes to investigate him.

In the third book Melvin gets in more trouble and Damon is there to rescue him (with a little pain as of course) from a quicksand trap.

He also manages to not die from the witch’s apples–one good one spoils the bad ones.  And then there is short strip about him breaking a window, which is deemed a good bad deed.

The final long story is a weird one about the giant rat who lives in their walls and has opened up a 4 star French restaurant (I kid you not).

There’s a few more short ones and then the final strip is about a rock that has been teetering in place for centuries.  Of course, Melvin bumps into it and then has to think fast.

I’m not sure how people reacted to these strips when they first came out–if they were considered “bad” or whatever, but it’s funny how sweet and innocent the bad behavior ultimately is.

For ease of searching, I include: Bela Bartok

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overpoSOUNDTRACK: J. MASCIS-Tiny Desk Concert #406 (November 22, 2014).

mascisJ. Mascis is best known as a wailing guitarist who plays in front of a wall of speakers with Dinosaur Jr.  But for this Tiny Desk Concert he busts out an acoustic guitar and plays some songs from his solo album (as well as an old Dino classic).

“Stumble” is sung in Mascis’ delicate falsetto.  They zoom in on him singing and its amazing how he doesn’t seem to be straining in any way doing this really high voice.  After all the falsetto, his saying “Thanks” in a deep voice is really kind of funny.

For the second song, he busts out the classic “Little Fury Thing.”  This acoustic version sounds really good–so simple and clean.  The original is great burst of loud rocking and it’s amazing that the song can sound so good stripped down. His voice is much deeper for this song .  I love at the end how he plays the strings really really fast but continues to swing in his most languid style.

The third song is actually two songs.  He switches guitars (and is apparently using sheet music) to play “Drifter/Heal the Star.”  The first part is a lengthy, really pretty instrumental.  For all of Mascis’ noise and rocking out, he knows how to write beautiful, lovely melodies.  The main melody is played on the high strings alternating some great strumming on the low strings for the “chorus.”   I could listen to this for ages.

The song segues into “Heal the Star” which sounds very Mascis–his most Mascis voice and strumming style.  Although for the chorus he’s back to the falsetto vocals again.  The solo a the end is great as he plays chords on the lowers strings while soloing ion the high strings (there must be a different tuning to make this sound so good).

I saw Dinosaur Jr a couple of months ago and I’m going to see them in November again.  I love Mascis’ loudness, but it’s wonderful to hear him play these quiet pieces too.

[READ: April 1, 2016] Overpowered!

I loved the premise of this book right from the start.  I mean, the cover alone is great, and flipping through it, there are some wonderful images of men with great mustaches in turbans doing all manner of hypnosis to people.  What I didn’t expect (but probably should have if I’d read his bio on the back) is that Green himself is a practicing hypnotherapist (in addition to being an actor and performer who has created such characters as “US Country music star Tina C and pensioner rap star Ida Barr.”

It turns out that Green has been interested in hypnosis for a long time.  He learned how to do it and then wanted to set the record straight for what hypnosis actually is as opposed to what we believe it is.

So this proves to be a thorough (and very funny) history of hypnosis through the years.   He says the book is called “Overpowered” because “I’m fascinated by the delight human beings derive from the idea of being taken over.  Being conscious may be beneficial, but it is also hard work.” (more…)

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stuffedSOUNDTRACK: BIO RITMO-Tiny Desk Concert #392 (September 29, 2014).

bioritBio Ritmo is a nine-piece band that has played salsa music for 23 years (as of 2014).  The back beat and rhythm is pure salsa–there’s a drummer (who has that classic salsa drum sound) and two bongo players.  There’s shakers and scrapers and timbales and congas and a cowbell.

The four horns players (two trumpets, sax and trombone) punctuate all o the right notes to get you moving along.

The first song is “La Via.”  The main driving force seems to be the keyboard, which was unexpected–it adds a kind of Latin jazz feel to the proceedings.  I love the way the keyboards shift from a Latin feel to a more groovy 70s feel before the vocals start.  There’s a cool break in the middle of the song when it stops and we get a few pounding notes before the song resumes.  Classic salsa.

“Picaresca”has fun dancey rhythm and a lengthy trumpet solo, giving it another interesting salsa/jazz feel.  The keyboard solo sounds a little cheesey here–like they need better sounds on that program, but it’s the drums “solo” in the middle that makes this song so much fun.  It’s a great instrumental.

“Perdido” goes through many different genres.  He explains that it begins like a Puerto Rican dance from the 1800s and then goes “into other stuff.”  The opening does indeed sound like an old song and after a few verses it morphs into modern salsa once again.

I really enjoyed this set a lot.  Most salsa music sounds the same to me, but I really like it when I hear it. On the downside, this is the first Tiny Desk Concert where I felt like the band wasn’t mic’d effectively.  The vocals are really quiet (almost inaudible at times), and when the trombonist does a solo it’s also a little too quiet.  But the main focus is the percussion and that’s plenty loud!

[READ: May 10, 2016] Stuffed

I have had to interlibrary loan a lot of the rest of the First Second books because my library system doesn’t have them.  Usually if a library doesn’t have an older book it’s because not many people read it any more so they got rid of it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad, but it doesn’t  give you a ton of confidence about it.  But this book defied every expectation and wound up being outstanding!

I assumed this title would be a cautionary tale about someone eating too much.  I had no idea what I was actually in for!

As the book opens, we meet Tim. He works for a benefits department of an insurance company (it sounds awful).  He gets a call that his father is dying.  He rushes to the hospital just in time  to see his father insult him once more before breathing his last.  His father’s estate is to be split between himself and his half-brother, Ollie.  No one has seen Ollie in ages.  When they do track him down, he is now known as “Free Spirit.” (more…)

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