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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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SOUNDTRACK: OKKERVIL RIVER-Tiny Desk Concert #311 (October 15, 2013).

I had first heard of Okkeervil River a few years ago, but I never really knew much about them.  I assumed they were a folk band.  Then a few years back I first head “Down Down the Deep River” and loved it.  I had some idea that the band was maybe a duo, so I was surprised to see this rather large 6 piece band–two acoustic guitars, 1 electric guitar, keys, trumpet and drums.

So what’s the deal with this band and the name?

At first blush, Okkervil River is obviously a good rock ‘n’ roll band, but listen closely — especially to its lyrics — and you’ll hear a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The group has been making sharp, thoughtful music since the late ’90s, with the first of its seven albums coming out a dozen years ago.

The songs in this Tiny Desk Concert are from The Silver Gymnasium, a record inspired by the childhood of 37-year-old singer-songwriter Will Sheff; he grew up a bespectacled, crooked-toothed redhead in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden. His lyrics are drenched in specific memories, pop-culture references and youthful insecurity.

The stories pop a bit more in this acoustic set-up for Okkervil River, but they rock plenty hard in concert and on their albums. If you’ve missed the past dozen years of this band, start here and then work your way back through its catalog. The Stage Names is my favorite, but nothing disappoints.

[The band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya set on the river in St Petersburg].

As it turns out the band is more rocky than folky–even if they are heavily acoustic.

“On a Balcony” a catchy swinging folk rock song.  The addition of the trumpet after averse is really cool.

Before “Pink Slips” Sheff switches guitars with the other guy–then laughs because the strap is set wrong.  Someone says, why not just switch straps?  Which they do.  Bob asks him about the strap correlation and he says: I don’t like the Paul McCartney disconnected cerebral height but I don’t like the grunge-Kurt-Cobain-I-cant-reach-my-guitar thing.  He likes a happy medium.  Then they ask about his shirt–it’s by Winsor McKay, the comic artist.  He says he always loved him, then he saw the Tom Petty “Runnin’ Down a Dream” video which imitates McKay.  It was a like a dream come to life, so he thought he’d make shirts of artists he likes and sells them with his merch.

“Pink Slips” has a kind of slacker melody with a lot of words—and here you can really hear the sophisticated lyrics that Bob talks about.  And the backing vocals sounds terrific.  After the song he says No one has caught the Kevin Costner references in that song. (Waterworld and The Postman).  He also notes that Tom Petty plays himself in The Postman.

“Down Down the Deep River” is so catchy, although this version is very different from the recorded version—more folky less keyboardy.  I really like the keyboard/horn melody and the great backing vocals.  And the claps are super fun.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Eleven

Book Eleven covers issues 51-55.  And it features the death of two major characters!

Chapter 1 opens with the cryptic panel TWO YEARS LATER.

It shows Chu Chu’s bestselling cookbook being taken out of the best seller display and being replaced by Amelia’s EATERS series.

Then we flash up to heaven where Tony’s deceased sister Toni catches us up to speed briefly before getting called to bed by Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan (I love the bed scenes, they are so funny–the way Guillory draws the sheets so snug…).

Next we move to the White House where the annual Easter Egg hunt has been replaced by a Platypus Egg Hunt (with a platypus that looks quite similar to another famous cartoon platypus).  How I wish this was a commentary on the Trump Easter Egg Fiasco #RESIST.

Next we flash to Olive working in the White House kitchen.  It is through Olive’s lightning fast reflexes she is able to stop an assassination attempt of the President.  And their fast work has promoted them to full-fledged agents with the FDA.  Sadly for Olive, she is assigned to work with Ginny who is pretty nutty.  But some flash forwards show just how well they work together.

The next chapter shows the early history of Savoy.  His wife died in the avian flu epidemic which put him on the path to finding the truth about it.  But when he offers his services, a Senator is quick to shut him down–which doesn’t make Savoy very happy. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK
: BATHS-Tiny Desk Concert 300 (September 4, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Baths and I am impressed by their busy-ness in this set.  There are only two guys playing, both play with various computer gadgets and then switch to keyboards and guitars.  They layer more and more music on this fairly dancey and very electronic sound.

Baths, a.k.a. Will Wiesenfeld, plays mysterious and textured electronic music. When Wiesenfeld came to the Tiny Desk, I expected contemplative tones and a laid-back performance; he does, after all, call his project Baths. But what sets him apart from the vast majority of like-minded performers is that his music doesn’t get buried behind the buttons or lost in a hypnotic glaze.

Wiesenfeld is an extrovert live, and at the Tiny Desk, he sounds vibrant and compelling as he performs songs from this year’s Obsidian. His partner Morgan Greenwood, an accomplished music-maker in his own right, keeps the music dense but frees up Wiesenfeld to sing with few distractions; there’s a mind-meld between the two that’s undeniable. They’re not accustomed to playing in the light of day, but they enchant in this perfect introduction to their work.

Wisenfeld’s vocals are a lot of wordless sounds (ba ba ba, na na na) that get looped and mixed around.  He sings in a rather high register, especially when making the looped sounds.

“Miasma Sky” builds with layers upon layers of sounds and vocals.  The sounds are manipulated in great ways with those little knobs and sliders. And just as you think it’s going to end with a series of delicate synth and guitar notes, he begins looping them which create the building blocks for the rest of the song.   It’s primarily keyboards and glitchy drums until the end.

“Phaedra” begins with some heavy drums and them playing around with all their gadgets.  This is a fast, pumping, dancing song.  Greenwood sings backing vocals in an equally high register.

“Ocean Death” has deep thumping drums and an opening with lots of na na nas and la la las in a textually rich soundscape.  It all fades down o just drums before building back up again.

[READ: July 9, 2016] Ruins

Seven years ago I read a book called Diario de Oaxaca, a sketchbook by Peter Kuper that I really enjoyed.  When I grabbed this book of the shelf the other day I didn’t realize it was the same guy.  But I can see that that sketchbook informed this excellent graphic novel.

The Diario covered his two-year stay in Oaxaca where he drew a lot, studied insects (and saw the monarch butterflies) and experienced both chaos and contentment.

This fictionalized account of the story places two characters into a situation that sounds similar to what he experienced, but with enough difference to keep it purely fictional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PATTY GRIFFIN-Tiny Desk Concert #282 (June 24, 2013).

I have Patty Griffin’s first two albums—I like her folkie sensibilities and her voice which I tend to think of as a little unusual.  And yet it’s not unusual here at all.  She sings powerfully and beautifully.

For this Tiny Desk Concert she’s playing some from her then new release:

she takes care to balance the exquisite mourning of “Faithful Son” — and the sweetly somber “That Kind of Lonely,” which Griffin describes as “a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence” — by closing her set with the playfully bawdy, kindly celebratory “Get Ready Marie.” Inspired by a favorite photo of her grandparents, the song finds Griffin viewing two complicated lives with the generous, hopeful eye she’s been casting on her subjects for three fruitful decades now.

She opens with “Faithful Son.” I love how the middle of this has a cool section where the two acoustic guitars (played by Griffin and Dave Pulkingham) face each other and strum hard for a bit.  The problem for me with this song is that the baritone guitar (played by Craig Ross) is either out of tune or the Ross hits a few wrong notes.  Since it resonates a bit louder than anything else, it’s really noticeable.  The accordion (played by John Deaderick) isn’t loud enough either.

“That Kind Of Lonely” is, as noted, a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence.  It’s a pretty, quiet number.  A good contrast to “Get Ready Marie.”  She says she is always picking on her family for stories.  She says she got this idea from a photograph of her grandparents taken just after they wed in the 1920s.  Her grandmother is looking at the camera like maybe she made the biggest mistake of her life and her grandfather (who looks really handsome) looks like he can’t wait to get his hands on her. They had a wild relationship—plates were lying.  This is a comic bawdy song that sounds like a traditional drinking song with some great lyrics:

No this isn’t the end of our story
No our marriage stuck like a habit
But I had a good hunch, when she kissed me a bunch
She could do other things like a rabbit

It’s in ¾ time and the accordion is louder here and it all sounds terrific.  It’s hard to believe that she’s been playing for 30 years, but she sure sounds like a pro.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis 2

I found Persepolis to be an amazing book.  A peek inside a regime that was sort of mythically wicked during my childhood. Marjane’s personal story was interesting of course, but I enjoyed seeing just what was happening in this world that seemed so mysterious when I was growing up.

This sequel is a little less exciting because it is more or less about a lonely teenager in Europe.  I think if the first book wasn’t so groundbreaking, this one wouldn’t feel as disappointing.  Her story is interesting and her experiences are story-worthy, but compared to the first book this one is the awkward teenage years.

We see that Marjane’s being sent to Europe didn’t go quite as planned.  She stayed with her mom’s friend.  But the friend fought with her husband all the time and their house was not a happy one. They felt that they couldn’t look after Marjane so they sent her to boarding school in Vienna–Marjane didn’t speak German. (more…)

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