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   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk Concert #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

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

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

And this EP was their first release.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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dino SOUNDTRACK: NATHAN SALSBURG-Tiny Desk Concert #213 (May 3, 2012).

nathanI had never heard of Nathan Salsburg until the Joan Shelley Tiny Desk Concert (posted about yesterday).  Salsburg in a fingerpicking guitarist and his accents and trills sounded wonderful in Shelley’s folk songs.  Well, this show from three years earlier has Salsburg playing two gorgeous instrumentals (which maybe explains why he didn’t sing backup with Shelley).  The blurb notes that “he’s been playing guitar for 22 years, yet he’s only played out publicly for a few months.”

Were it not for the blurb, I never would have guessed that the first song, “Affirmed” celebrates the Triple Crown-winning horse Affirmed. It has a slow easy pace (not racehorse-like at all) but it is full of lovely riffs and lines and sweet melodies.

The blurb continues, “when Salsburg picks up the guitar, what comes out is a mix of blues and ragtime, but these are 21st-century rags from an old soul with new energy.”  And that’s quite apt.

The second, song “Eight Belles Dreamt the Devil Was Dead,” tells the tragic story of Eight Belles, who in 2008’s Kentucky Derby tripped across the finish line, coming in second place, and tragically broke both her front ankles. The horse had to be euthanized on the field.”  Despite this horribly sad tale, this song is not sad, it is also pretty, measured and upbeat–a celebration rather than a dirge.

I feel like there aren’t many people making music like this anymore–delicate acoustic guitar instrumentals with complex phrasings and lengthy passages.  It’s quite beautiful, all of it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Science Comics: Dinosaurs

The first Second non-fiction comics are some of my favorite books that they have put out.  And this new series called Science Comics proves to be just as outstanding as I could have hoped.

I started with this dinosaurs book first.  It opens with a testimonial from Leonard Finkelman a professor of philosophy at Linfield College.  He talks about how he used to draw dinosaurs as a kid and he thought he was being so outrageous because he gave them stripes!  No one knew any better back then, but now we think that many dinosaurs had all kinds of marking and some even had feathers!

Okay so my son is 11 and when he was 5 or so he went through a dinosaur phase. I thought I knew everything there was to know about them back then.  I learned the ones he liked but never really went any further in my knowledge (despite all of the books in the house).  Well, this book showed me just how dumb and ignorant I was about dinosaurs (in a really fun way). (more…)

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