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Archive for the ‘Oddities’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RYLEY WALKER-“Love is Everywhere (Beware)” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

It’s interesting that Walker chose the band’s brand new (at the time) single to cover.  I don’t think the album was even out yet when they released this issue.

I saw Walker live last month and his set was a forty-five minute wild improv guitar session.  So I’m even more surprised at how beautiful and tender this cover is.

There are some great percussive effects from Ryan Jewell which I wouldn’t have really noticed if I hadn’t seen him do similar things live.  Walker didn’t sing at all when I saw him, and his voice here is soft and whispery.  It works perfectly with the muted tone of the song–guitar harmonics, a shuffling beat and gentle bass from Calexico’s Scott Colberg.

The song grows gradually louder, mostly from Jewell’s drums until with about a minute left, Walker goes absolutely berserk with a wild electric guitar solo–largely noise and chaos, while the rest of the song continues as before.  Very Wilco.

[READ: February 15, 2020] Snippets of Serbia

This book came across my desk at work.  The book is entirely in English and yet the cataloging information (the CIP page) is in Russian, primarily. It was published in Beograd by Komshe Publishing.

That’s all fascinating because Emma Fick is an American artist.  She is of Serbian descent and went there to teach English.  She brought her sketch book because she always does.  While there she drew pictures and then earned a grant to travel to Serbia to draw more.

The introduction to the book gives a good summary of Serbia and its inability to be pigeonholed.

Serbia is fascinating and baffling, captivating and frustrating, vibrant and confounding.  There is no singularity to Serbian culture, and its historical, religious, cultural, culinary, and philosophical narratives are knots that must be carefully detangled.

Illustration was her way of absorbing Serbia.

She knows the book is flawed and incomplete.  She knows there are mistakes in it and she knows that her experience of Serbia is not what Serbia is,  But boy did it ever make me want to go there–a country I have never given a second thought to.

The book is roughly 200 pages of watercolor sketches of people, places, customs, and especially the food of Serbia: Belgrade, North, South, East and West. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Tiny Desk Concert #837 (April 1, 2019).

Weezer is surprisingly polarizing for a band that writes fairly mundane pop songs.

I can’t help but think that this Tiny Desk Concert will just add fuel to the fire.  It’s the four Weezer dudes (Rivers Cuomo: lead vocals, guitar; Brian Bell: guitar, vocals, keys; Scott Shriner: bass guitar; Patrick Wilson: drums) on acoustic instruments.

Why polarizing this time?  Because they play unexpected songs.  They don’t play Africa, nor do they play any of their popular songs.  They also don’t play fan favorites from the first two albums (well, sort of).

They open with “Longtime Sunshine,” a 1994 track that’s only appeared as a Rivers Cuomo home recording on bootlegs and compilations, and on the deluxe edition of Pinkerton.  With piano and acoustic guitars, it really sounds nothing like Weezer, except that it is clearly Weezer (the lyrics, that voice).  Rivers plays the guitar solos and there’s some surprisingly loose bass work.

They sound good, but a little less than perfect, which is cool.  As the blurb notes

This is probably the loosest you’ll ever see Weezer. Known for meticulously produced — and electric — live shows, frontman Rivers Cuomo and the rest of the band settled in behind the Tiny Desk for an entirely acoustic set without the in-ear monitors, click track or vocal separation they usually employ to stay locked-in and tight for bigger performances. The result is surprisingly intimate, with songs that feel lived-in and rumpled, like an old flannel shirt from the ’90s.

They follow that up with a new song.

Then the band performed a stripped-down version of its electro-pop song “Living in L.A.,” from Weezer’s new self-titled “Black Album,”

I actually don’t know the proper version of this song (but I do know a lot of people don’t like the electro sound of the new album). So maybe this version (which is really good) will make them wish the recorded version were more like it.  Bell adds another acoustic guitar and the riffing is pretty heavy (for acoustic guitars).

For everything that polarizes people about Weezer, the one thing people seldom talk about is their musicianship.  All four of them (Bell in particular) are very good and even if they are loose hear, they still sound right on.

I was pretty excited to hear them play “Across the Sea” from Pinkerton, since the certainly don’t play this much.   I never really understood the lyrics all that well, but i enjoyed singing the parts that I knew.  The blurb puts it well:

It’s a song Cuomo originally wrote in his early 20s, inspired by a fan letter he’d received from a young woman in Japan. While beloved by many Gen-Xers who’d first heard it on 1996’s Pinkerton, the song’s lyrics haven’t aged terribly well.

But if you can look past that (I think it’s only the one line that’s uncomfortable-making), the version sounds great.  I especially like the combination of Rivers playing the solo and Bell playing the other guitar.

It’s nice that they were allowed to play four songs.  They play the new song “High as a Kite.”  I didn’t know this song either and I actually can’t imagine it done in any other way.  It’s quite a pretty song.  I’m very curious to hear the recorded version.

There’s a moment n the song where it shifts gears where it sounds like they screwed up, but I don’t think they do, it’s just a little clunky in this format.  Again, I want to hear what it sounds like on record.

Weezer is known for being kind of goofy, so it’s easy to expect them to do something fun, but they are all business.  Aside from this goodbye, “We are Weezer, from the planet Earth. Have a nice life!” they don’t really say anything or break from playing straightforward songs.

The blurb, again, puts it well. It says the song “High as a Kite,” is a

song of innocence and escapism, Cuomo sings about daydreaming and how he wants to disappear — which is exactly what the band did once the song was over.

Longtime fans of Robin Hilton will know that he loves Weezer.  I never found out how he reacted to this Tiny Desk.  Was it polarizing for him as well, or was it just cool to see this side of an otherwise very polished band.

[READ: April 9, 2019] The Return of King Doug 

I have had this book on my bookshelf for a decade, apparently.  I’m not even sure where or how I came to have it although the Oni Press label is a good indicator.

The book starts twenty-five years earlier in the Magical Kingdom of Valdonia.

Valdonia is made up of strange-looking creatures.  Part of this is also because of Wook-Jin Clark’s really odd drawing style.  It took me a while to get used to and enjoy the way he draws and even now I still find it a little off, somehow.

Two centaurs are speaking about the Dark Queen and how she will not rest until she has defeated their kingdom. Balthazar shows off their one defense, the Magical Heart of Agnon.  They just need someone pure of heart enough to wear it.  And Balthazar has heard that one of the Tumtums, Feldspar, has met a stranger–a human child–who might just be that pure being.

The human is Doug and he found his way into their village.  He also bears the mark of the prophecy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GIL SHAHAM-“Partitat No. 2 “Gavotte en Rondeau” by J.S. Bach” (Field Recordings, January 12, 2012).

This was the very first Field Recording posted on the NPR site back in 2012 [Gil Shaham: A Violinist’s Day At The Museum].

Shaham plays Bach in the Hirshiorn Museum.

As Gil Shaham wandered through the back offices of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., he said he felt “like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum.” For this impromptu Bach mini-recital, the violin superstar momentarily became part of the art, bathed in the modish lighting and projections of a multimedia installation during the performance.

He is introduced with the rather amusing:  “A world famous, world renowned violinist who, by the way, starts every morning with a bowlful of Cap’n Crunch.  He told me that.”

I love that this first Field Recording was, like many of NPR’s best things, a spontaneous idea:

A crowd packed the exhibit room to watch as Shaham launched into Bach’s third partita. After the performance, the violinist greeted fans in the museum, many of whom were headed to his concert at the Kennedy Center that night. He seemed surprised and delighted that the guerrilla concert, announced only on local classical station WETA and Twitter that day, drew so many people willing to hear Bach in the afternoon.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “Are We Not Men”

Boyle’s stories aren’t usually as fanciful as this.  But I loved it just as much as many of his other more down to earth stories.  I particularly enjoyed that it was set in the future, although there was no real statement of that until late in the story.  There were hints, which seem obvious in retrospect, but which at first just seemed like hyperbolic or metaphorical.

Like “the dog was the color of a maraschino cherry” or that the lawn incorporated “a gene from a species of algae that allowed it to glow under the porch light at night.”

The story opens with the cherry-colored dog killing an animal in the narrator  Roy’s front yard (on that grass).  He wanted to chase the dog away because it might ruin his grass.  Then he noticed that what the dog had killed was his neighbor Alison’s pig.  She loved that pig and anthropomorphized it.  To try to salvage the pig, he ran up to the dog waving his arms.  It immediately latched onto his forearm instead.

As Roy fights with the dog, the dog’s owner, well, the daughter of the owner, came running across the street.  She looked like a teenager but was actually 11 or 12.  When the girl says, “You hit my dog,” he replies that she bit him.  The girl says Ruby would never do that–she’s just playing.

Amid this horrorshow of blood and violence and death, and a sprinkling of genetic splicing, Boyle throws in a very funny experiment gone wrong.  Crowparrots were a modified bird which blended crows with the invasive parrot population.  It believed that the experiment would turn the parrots into carrion eaters.  But instead it made their calls loud and more frequent.  And they mimicked, so they “were everywhere, cursing fluidly, (“Bad bird! Fuck, fuck, fuck!“).” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Keep It Together Live from The Beacon Theatre (2014).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  This is their fourth CD ‘Keep It Together’ recorded live in concert at The Beacon Theatre on November 30, 2013, ten years after its release.

As the disc opens, Ryan shouts, “Keep It Together starts now.”  This makes me think that they played other songs before it?  It would be great to hear an album in its entirety but not if that’s all they played.

After the first song, “Diane,” Ryan jokes,  “I guess there no real surprises in the setlist from here on out.”

Midway through the show, he comments that as an active band making new music, you want to be careful not to trade in nostalgia.  But he also knows that if one of his favorite bands played one of his favorite albums…it would be magical.

The band sounds great.  And, fortunately, it’s one of those shows where the live recording sounds at times even better than the original.

The only real divergence from the album is that after “Homecoming “King” they play “Chariots of Fire” on piano and strings.  I’m not sure why, but it’s fun.

One of the great moments of any Guster concert is when they play “Come Downstairs and Say Hello” and the Thundergod plays the bongos and smashes the cymbals with his hands.  It’s more fun to see it, but it’s great in this case to hear it.

“Red Oyster Cult” sounds great with the horns as an addition and Ben Kweller comes out and sings lead on the first verse of “I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today” (I had no idea he co-wrote it!).  They even leave a slight pause for the “hidden track” of “Two at a Time.”

This is a great version of this album, and well worth the listen.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Fungus”

This is a story about carrying on after the unthinkable. But not just carrying on, carrying on with the mundane things that you can’t live without but remind you of exactly what happened.

The story opens with an insurance check and talk of geckos.  But the tone is not lighthearted like Geico commercials.  Andrew has access to Ingrid and Ron’s car, but really, he can only borrow it for so long.  It is time to buy a new one.

So Andrew and his daughter Willa go to the Subaru dealer.

These two scenes are simple enough, but they are fraught with meaning–with the undertone of what happened and how Andrew is allowed and allowing himself to deal with it.   There’s darkly funny thoughts (he’d like a homemade sign around his next that says “I don’t know”).  But the reality is that he has to go on for Willa’s sake, if not his own.

And then there’s this idea which is perfect for the story but works wonders in everyday life: (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.

Woah.

So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #693 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. (more…)

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