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[LISTENED TO: June 29, 2016] No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) 

Scab McNally is a clever fourth-grade kid who is always inventing things. But he’s also kind of selfish and pretty mean to his sister.  Isabelle is his twin but because she really uses her brain (She is smart times ten) she has been bumped up from 4th grade to 5th grade.

Isabelle doesn’t understand Scab’s brand of cleverness (and mischievousness) and so she writes a daily news report about all of the things that Scab has done to her (and done at school) through the day.  She reads this to her parents every night.  It’s pretty hard for Scab to catch a break at this point.

But obviously, the more Isabelle tells on him the more things he does to her.  He puts cheese in her underwear drawer and dead bugs in her room.

This is all some background to the fact that more than anything else Scab wants a dog.  (There seem to be a lot of books about kids who desperately want a dog).  Scab’s best friend has a dog, Oscar–a wiener dog.  And Scab is super jealous but always happy to help out with Oscar.  Of course, since Isabelle is always attaining on him, his parents don’t think he is responsible to own a dog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALPINE-Tiny Desk Concert #295 (August 12, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Alpine before this show, so the blurb helpfully notes:

The Australian sextet crafts busily impeccable pop music with a danceable sway, prominent synths and the charming shared lead vocals of Phoebe Baker and Lou James. That’s a lot of ingredients to strip down to a semi-acoustic set in the NPR Music offices; there’s virtually no margin for error.  Thankfully, the two women at the band’s heart possess gorgeously interlocking, harmony-intensive voices that require no sweeteners.

Each of the women is fascinating in her own way.  I can’t not mention that Lou James, the dark-haired singer’s outfit is light blue two piece with the top and bottom attached by crossing strands of fabric (so technically it’s a one piece).  While the blonde-haired singer, Phoebe Baker is wearing a flowery dress over a long-sleeved shirt.  Her hair looks like if she unclipped it, it would be a huge nimbus around her head.  But appearances aside, their voices work perfectly together.  They do a lot of singing one note in a pretty staccato fashion (almost like horns).  Their voices meld beautifully, whether singing in harmony or chorus.

I love the little fiddly, interesting guitar chords of the first song, “Gasoline.”  The song doesn’t deviate that much from the beginning—it’s bouncy and catchy–because all of the focus is on the two singers.  It’s really a fun song that I can’t stop listening to.

the second song, “Villages,” opens with a gentle acoustic guitar.  It’s interesting that Baker’s voice is noticeably accented in this song.  Like when she sings “Why don’t you come,” or in the really groovy middle part when James is singing, “I can’t believe I’ve seen this love,” Baker sings “Ah Oh” but you can actually hear her accent in these single notes.

They mention that they were walking around D.C. but it was way too hot.  They saw the White House and the Lincoln memorial.  The guitarist went to the Air and Space Museum (but he’s English) and the drummer is jealous.

I really like the way the third song, “Hands” opens with the vocals singing in an enchanting staccato, “It’s okay to feel the rain on my hand my love.”  And again once the verses start the vocals are very Björk-like

The final song, “Softsides,” is one they’ve never done acoustically before.  It’s also the first time their drummer has played keyboards live.  Once again the vocals are fascinating and really engaging, with each singer doing little pieces of the delicate vocal line.

[READ: July 19, 2016] Dan vs. Nature

I judged this book by its cover and title and deemed it worthy of a read.

I loved the idea of “vs. nature” and didn’t really have any sense of what the book would be a bout but the blurb “an outrageously funny and wicked raunchy romp in the woods” sounded promising.

So I was very surprised that the book began with Dan getting beaten up by jocks (the scene was funny if not a little violent) and then going home to have dinner with his mom and the man he is meeting for the first time–who his mom says just asked her to marry him.

The reason he is getting beaten up by jocks is because of his best friend Charlie.  They have been friends forever and Charlie is super smart.  He’s also a major germaphobe and has been reading everything science-related since he was little.  Charlie is also the school photographer and when he tries to get the jocks to pose for a picture he calls them uriniferous homunculi. They don’t know what that means, but Charlie explains it to them.  So Charlie and Dan both get beat up for it. The gym teacher hears the ruckus and comes out and tells them to save their fighting for the wrestling meet.  Ugh. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-Tiny Desk Concert #237 (August 20, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

rufusPreceding his sister by a few months at the Tiny Desk was Rufus Wainwright.  I love Rufus’ delivery and style.  I really like his voice too.  The problem is I don’t really like his music all that much.  I wish I did, because I love hearing him sing.  But for some reason it doesn’t do anything for me.  We even saw him live (on a bill with Guster and Ben Folds) and left half way through his set because it’s such a different energy than the other two.

But I love this little bit of information about this show:

We’d never tried to squeeze a piano behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw a chance to have Rufus Wainwright play here, I wouldn’t — and he probably wouldn’t — have had it any other way

That’s particularly funny because now some five years later they have had all kinds of things behind his desk.

He plays three songs on the piano.

“The Art Teacher”is a sad story about, yes an art teacher.  Really listening to the lyrics (full of art references) makes the song come alive.

Before the second song, he says I’m promoting my new album Out of the Game…yes, you may applaud if you wish.  Covers a lot of genres of music, one is, briefly, country.  Today is a lazy hazy day in the South–while we’re near the South.

“Respectable Dive”is a slow song (the country song, but not sounding country here) and again, the lyrics are great.

“Montauk” is about several people.  His daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen and his fiance.  Viva’s bilogical mother is Lorca Cohen who is Leonard Cohen’s daughter.  The last verse is about “my mother, the great Kate McGarrigle” (Rufus’ father is Loudon Wainwright III).

This song is, as the blurb says:

Wainwright at his best. The piano lines flow with forward motion in a Philip Glass way, and there’s also a hauntingly beautiful story. Wainwright sings to his daughter Viva, [imagining her] grown up and visiting her two fathers in Montauk, a small community on the eastern tip of Long Island.

So I am torn between really liking his voice but feeling that his delivery is a little too slow to fully understand the great lyrics.  There’s so much greatness in his stuff, and yet I can’t find my way in.

[READ: December 20, 2016] “Defamer”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I really liked yesterday’s story and I really liked this one as well, even though it is very different.

This is a the sad story of a woman named Birdie.  Boy oh boy everything goes wrong in her life.  She works at an office.

Big boss takes a four-hour lunch.  He has suffered no major disasters in his life.  [He and his wife plan] their vacation to Maine a year in advance.  This is one way to live.

Birdie works in a corner cubicle near Bog Boss’ office… [She] makes $20,000 a year forwarding emails to people who make $15,000 a year.

Birdie assumes that her boss is having an affair on his four-hour lunches.  But one day she see him during his lunch break working at a deli, frantically making sandwiches for customers.  Nothing makes sense. (more…)

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humanSOUNDTRACK: ROOMFUL OF TEETH-Tiny Desk Concert #404 (November 10, 2014).

teethRoomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song).  The singers  all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style.  As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”

And that’s all so accurate.  Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.

The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.”  There are so many different sections.  It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement.  But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.”  It’s really fascinating.  And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing.  The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.”  That Casio remark is pretty spot on.

Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.”  The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View”  begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like.  Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end).  Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies.  The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.”  When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.

The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells.  “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women.  The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.”   The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs.  And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly.  I love when they throw in some  little “hey ya” mixed in.  But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.”  His voice is really intense.

At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.

[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater

Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates.  I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute).  And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!

But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.

Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work.  It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book.  I know I sure did. (more…)

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alieeenSOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA-Hang On to Each Other EP [CST105] (2014).

Hang_on_to_each_otherI try to go in sequence with a band’s records.  But this release is, inexplicably, a dance remix Ep of a song from the album Horses in the Sky.  The original is basically an a capella song with a harmonium.  Efrim sings the main melody and the chorus sings the repeated refrains.

It’s pretty cool and the spareness of it really resonates.  About four minutes (of 6 and a half), the refrain switches to “any fucking thing you love.”  Then about 5 minutes in he switches to “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” while the chorus starts singing, “Any fucking thing you love.”

This EP features vocals by Ariel Engle of AroarA, and virtually nothing of the original song except the words.

The first side “Any Fucking Thing You Love” is 11 minutes long and is as promised, a dance remix.  And it is a serious, get your butt on the dance floor remix.  No irony, no winking, just butt shaking.

It opens with roars and a boat (ocean liner) whistle and then some dance drums.   Then there’s what sounds like lions roars, a middle-eastern-sounding instrument and screams.  Then the female vocals come in singing “Hang On To Each Other.”   The majority of the song is an instrumental dance section with washes of keyboards and drums.  There’s roaring noises as the beat keeps up the pace.  About 9 minutes in she starts chanting “Any fucking thing you love” and the song continues to dance on until the feedback sounds at the end.

Side two is “Birds Toss Precious Flowers” which opens with that same boat whistle.   Some skittery keyboards come in and out and then a big bass drum starts keeping the beat.  It doesn’t start getting dancey until after about 90 seconds.  That’s when the vocals come in—echoey and very cool.  About four minutes in the music cuts away and it’s just the thudding bass drum and vocals, then the song picks up again  At around 7 minutes the “birds fly” part kicks in.  The song turns really dancey with a vocal solo   The last two minutes are more or less the keyboard winding going through a very slow reverb pedal.

Of the two, I like the second one better as there’s more interesting things going on, but I have to assume that the first is a better club song.

[READ: February 15, 2016] A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Lewis Trondheim found this book while on vacation.  It is the first collection of extraterrestrial comic strips every discovered.  And Trondheim convinced First Second to publish it [#10yearsof01].

A.L.I.E.E.E.N. stands for Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties.  (The book was originally published in France with the title A.L.I.E.E.N.)

The book is adorable, with cute and cuddly aliens creatures on a fascinating world.  There’s a blue four-legged guy and a yellow two-legged guy with a long tail and they are frolicking amidst butterfly-looking creatures.  The aliens only speak in alien tongue (I wonder if the characters can be translated or if it is just gibberish).  Then on page two, the blue guy runs into a tree and has both his eyes poked out in pools of blood.

WHAT?! (more…)

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spacedump SOUNDTRACK: YO-YO MA, EDGAR MEYER, CHRIS THILE AND STUART DUNCAN-Tiny Desk Concert #175 (November 17, 2011).

yoyoYo-Yo Ma might be the most well-known cellist in the world.  I suspect that everyone has heard of him.  But it’s likely that people don’t know just how diverse his musical range is.  As the NPR blurb says:

He’s reached out to a broad range of musicians (and Muppets) to play not just Bach and Beethoven, but also Brazilian samba, Argentine tango, jazz, songs from Sesame Street and a smorgasbord of Asian music with his Silk Road Ensemble. American roots music also figures into Ma’s melting pot: He teamed up with double-bass master Edgar Meyer and fiddler Mark O’Connor 15 years ago for the gentle new-grass album Appalachian Waltz.

For this 2011 venture called The Goat Rodeo Sessions, he has created another Americana album, this time with mandolin master (and multiple Tiny Desk Concert player) Chris Thile.  Meyer is back on double bass and they have added Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

I can honestly say I never expected to see Yo-Yo Ma on a song called “Quarter Chicken Dark” but there he is, playing along as Thile begins the song on the mandolin.  The cello, fiddle and bass are all bowed so, despite the mandolin, the song feels a bit more classical (Thile has also made classical music on the mandolin, so the pairing actually makes a lot of sense).  I think Thile comes off as the star of this song with a wild solo in the middle.

For “Attaboy,” the mandolin starts the song again, but pretty quickly the strings dominate.  There’s a beautiful opening by Ma and a great fiddle interplay in which Duncan hints at the big Irish section he’s going to play.  There’s some wonderful fast mini solos from all of the instruments, including the bass, and then the whole song switches to a jig with Duncan playing a very Irish riff while Duncan and Ma keep the low notes coming.   Incidentally, I believe that Thile and Duncan are playing the exact same solo by the end, which sounds great.  But it’s watching Yo-Yo Ma’s fingers and bow move so fast that is really amazing.

For the final song “Here and Heaven” Aoife O’Donovan joins them on vocals.  And for a chance of pace Duncan switches from fiddle to banjo.  (Although mid way through the song he switches back to fiddle).  Donovan and Thile sing the song together.  On the first verse they are a little too quiet.  But once they start belting out they are fine.  This song is catchy and fun and the vocals really do change the feel of their music.

It’s clear that these accomplished musician are having a lot of fun together.  Meyer and Ma actually wave to each other during the second song, and Thile makes lots of little jokes.  And when he introduces Aoife, it’s funny to hear Yo-Yo Ma cheer like a little kid.

While Yo-Yo Ma if probably the most famous musician here, I like them all, and I’ll honestly listen to Thile do anything.

[READ: August 29, 2012] Space Dumplins

Craig Thompson has created a pretty diverse collection of books.  From the serious and beautiful Habibi, to the weird-looking and sad Goodbye Chunky Rice to this trippy sci-fi story.

The story is about Violet Marlocke, a young girl who lives out in a space trailer park.  Her father is a space lumberjack (whatever that means) and her mom is a seamstress.  They are poor but pretty happy, and that’s okay by Violet, since family is everything to her.

But as the book opens we learn that space whales (okay, I’ll stop putting “space” before everything, because he doesn’t) have just eaten her school.  The whales have been rampaging all of the planets in the area. At first Violet is happy to have no school but her parents have to do something with her.  So her mom brings her to work at Shell-tar where they try to see if she can enroll in the state of the art school there.  She can’t because her dad has a criminal record (and he’s opposed to the fancy school anyway).

While Violet is looking around, she meets Elliot Marcel Ophennorth, a small chicken who is incredibly smart (and has visions of the future).  We also meet Zacchaeus, the last Lumpkin in the world. He works at the dump.  Violet quickly befriends them both, although they don’t all get along very well at first.

Two things then happen pretty quickly back home.  Violet and her dad buy an old piece of junk space bike to fix up and Violet’s dad takes on a dangerous job to make some more money. (more…)

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primatesSOUNDTRACK: OTIS TAYLOR-Tiny Desk Concert #120 (April 13, 2011).

otisOtis Taylor is a big, burly, bearded man who plays the banjo. His band consists of fiddle, drums and electric guitar and bass.

The songs are bluesy without being like the blues, and they are folky without really being like folk music.  And the way he plays the banjo is unlike any typical banjo song I’d heard before.

The blurb explains what makes his songs sound so different:  He plays a style of music he calls trance blues.

Taylor’s music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length.

And it’s true.  The basic melody of he first song, “Ten Million Slaves” (which is only 4 minutes) stays the same throughout the song.  It’s the fiddle (played by Anne Harris) that throws the new notes and riffs into the song that keep it so interesting,

He does throw in a simple but affecting solo at the end of “Ten Million Slaves” but it’s more fun to watch him rock out the end of the song.  That song also appeared in Public Enemies, the Michael Mann movie.

He calls his music trance blues music, came from Mali and Mississippi Hill Country.

The main riff of “Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down” is instantly familiar and a little dark.  I love the middle jam section where it just seems to gets bigger and bigger (I guess that’s the trance).

For the third song, “Talking About It Blues,” Taylor switches to acoustic guitar.  This is a fairly simple blues song, but I love the guitar riff that punctuates the verses.  The verse is simple enough “my daddy cut down a tree, make a guitar for me.”  This song features a lengthy solo by J.P. Johnson.

The drums (by Larry Thompson “Bryant Gumball of the drummers,”) and bass (by new bassist Todd Edmunds) are really simple but they sound great and really punctuate the song.

It’s a short song that segues into the final song, “Think I Won’t” which has a heavy five note riff to open with.  I love that it takes him forver to end this song.  Saying one more time even though they do more than one more time.

I don’t really like blues songs that much.  But this band is really tight and the addition of the fiddle really makes these songs stand out. Plus after those cool droning blues songs I was hooked.

[READ: December 15, 2015] Primates

I had been planning to post magazine stories this week.  Then I learned that it is First Second’s ten-year anniversary and they are trying to promote it with the cool hashtag #10yearsof01.   Since I’ve read a bunch of First Second books in the last couple of months, I’m going to give them a deserved shout out by posting a few in a row and including that hashtag.

This is a non-fiction graphic novel from First Second and it is outstanding.  In a wonderfully kid-friendly style, it talks about the incredible work done by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.  And the man behind their success, Leonard Leakey.

The story opens on Jane Goodall.  After visiting a friend in Kenya, she spoke to Dr Leakey (who tells of his childhood growing up in Kenya).  Through their meeting, Leakey gained funding and sent Goodall to Gombe to study chimpanzees in 1957.  She soon discovered them using tools and eating meat.   Her work caused them to, as the book puts it, “redefine tools, redefine Man or accept chimpanzees as human.”

Then she went further and learned so much more about chimpanzees, using techniques that were not exactly scientifically approved (sifting through dung, setting up places for them to eat) but wound up being amazingly effective.

Jane married Hugo, her photographer and then they were visited by Dian Fossey. (more…)

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