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Archive for the ‘Robots’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #959 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

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516ZKjM2CqL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) SOUNDTRACK: ELISAPIE-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 20, 2020).

downloadElisapie (I have no idea how to pronounce that) is a First Nations singer from Salluit, on the Northern tip of Quebec.

She sings in Inuktitut (as well as in English and French).  And her voice is absolutely intense.

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

her life as an adopted child and of meeting her biological mother. Now, as a mother herself, she sings about what it must have meant to her own mother to give up her child.

Elisapie left her birth-village, Salluit, as a teenager and headed to Montreal, leaving her community and her sick mom. The songs she sings, here all come from her album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl and deal with the consequences of her leaving.

These songs are definitely rock, but with a different overall sound.  Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone is fantastic–creating deep low rumbles and otherworldly squawks.

“Arnaq” opens with some chugging guitar riffs (I can’t tell if the guitar is acoustic or electric) from Joe Grass and after a verse or so, some great noisy electric guitars from Josh Toal, who punctuates the song with little solos.  There’s no bass guitar because the bass saxophone covers all of the low ends.

The song, even though it is in Inuktitut is rally catchy with a chorus of “ahhhhhh, I, yi, I” (or something).

The middle section is full of great noises as both guitars and the sax all play some wild solos.

All of this is held together by “the tasteful drumming of Evan Tighe.”

She says the second song, “Una” is the most painful yet the most freeing song.  It is  written to her biological mother.  In Inuktitut the word for mother means “our little bag” because they carried us.

It opens with slow staccato guitar chords and a near a capella vocal before the quiet electric guitar from Josh Toal joins in.  The spareness of the beginning of this song is a great counterpoint to the end of the song when everyone joins in–vocals, guitars, sax and some complex drumming.

Before the final song, she looks around and smiles and says Lizzo was here!  My daughter is very excited.

The final song “Darkness Bring The Light” opens with some great weird sounds from everyone.  Tighe makes scraping metallic sounds as he slides his drum sticks around the cymbals.  Toal plays a synth intro as Grass bows his guitar and Sharp makes waves of gentle sounds to underpin the melody

This one is in English.  She sings a melody that rides over the sounds.  After 2 minutes the drums kick in and after a run through of the chorus, the guitarists join in

Bob Boilen concludes

This is an extraordinary Tiny Desk from an artist with something meaningful to say.

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

[READ: March 10, 2020] Gunnerkrigg Court 4 [32-41]

I really enjoyed the first three books of this series and then promptly forgot about it.  I happened to see this book at the library and was excited to see that I hadn’t read it.  Can it really have been three years since I last read about these characters?

Being away for so long made some of this a little confusing.  I will have to read the whole story again some time.

Chapter 32 shows Antimony returning from the forest and there is a warm welcome with Renard. But Katarina’s welcome is cool–“you kinda make it hard to be your friend.” Antimony tries very hard to make Kat like her again…too hard.  She creates scary situations in which she can “save” Kat,  It doesn’t exactly work, although Kat isn’t really mad anymore, just annoyed.  But then a gigantic creepy monster thing comes out of the water.  Kat is impressed by Annie’s conjuring until Annie says she didn’t do it.  They run out.

Only to learn that this is Lindsey–the creature who helped design most of everything at the court–a giant crablike creature.

All this time Kat has been working on the idea of growing a robot.  Well, not exactly, but kind of.  She imagines using a muscular frame to build a robot body around.  Or something.  She is able to use the smarts of one of the existing robots to give her a hand.  The code they provide is actually a small white cube with no writing on it.  Amazingly Kat is able to read parts of it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUNNY WAR-Tiny Desk Concert #909 (November 13, 2019).

Sunny War says twice that she’s not going to talk.  She saves all of her words for her songs.

Her voice is soft and gentle, but her words are strong.

The first song “If It Wasn’t Broken” features the chorus “how would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?”

Further lyrics in this slow and simple song:

so you lost your baby
so you lost your job
so you lost all faith
in the one you call god.

Dang.

These are words from a young woman who has been homeless, busked on city streets and Venice Beach, left home feeling she was a burden to her distraught mother, had her life complicated by drugs, and yet still found a way to pick up a guitar and bring joy to others.

Her songs aren’t complicated, but they feature some really excellent fingerpicking.  “Got No Ride” has a lot of beautiful interludes (including one part where she is fingerpicking and bending a string at the same time).

Sunny War began learning guitar from her uncle at around the age of seven. One of the early songs she learned was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” an almost prophetic tune with the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” But it was the fingerpicking that was the attraction for Sunny War. She loved playing guitar that way as opposed to strumming and, as you watch this Tiny Desk, you’ll see what a fluid and remarkable guitar player she’s become.

The song also features some extra bass lines from Aroyn Davis (The first song didn’t really have noticeable bass).

“Love Became Pain” is a lot faster, with some really impressive guitar work.  Clearly from the title, though, this isn’t a happy song either.  I like the shuffle drums that Paul Allen gets using brushes on the cajón.

The final song, “Shell” opens with the lines:

“Before you rip your girl to shreds / Be sure you really want her dead.”

With such a pretty melody, too!

Much like her name, Sunny War’s music is a wonder of contradictions.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 4

This book concludes the Rust saga.

Like the first book, there are a ton of pages with no dialogue.  This story is wonderfully told with just visuals.  And Lepp’s visuals are really amazing–what he accomplishes with such  limited color palette is really impressive.

The book starts with a flashback to the war 48 years ago.  It’s been awhile since I read the first book but I feel like this intro pages are exactly the same.  We see Jet Jones rescue a man by creating a large shield.  I’m not sure if there;s some more significance.  I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to know who the man is.

But the story quickly jumps back to the Taylor’s farm.  The really menacing robots are closing in.  Oz has a shotgun in ready.  And the engineer is carrying Jet Jones’ limp body away with him.

The robots arrive (why does it amuse me that they open the door) and Oz shoots, which awakens the family.

A terrible battle commences in the house with all of the people getting hurt, but with all of them doing a good job of harming the robots.  Jet comes in at the last second and smashes up some of the robots.  In the process reveals his mechanical arm.  The family is shocked, except for Oz.  Roman is furious that Jet lied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PARQUET COURTS-“I Got Drugs (at the End of the Century)” (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.

This track is about as far from the Wilco sound as I can imagine.  Plus, this is a mash up of two Wilco songs, “Handshake Drugs” and “I Got You (at the End of the Century).”  The song opens with Austin singing the lyrics to “Handshake Drugs” while the rest of the band chants the backing vocals of “I Got You” at the end of each verse.

Musically it’s very un-Wiclo as well.  There’s a drum sound which sounds like a sample of a person making a drum sound.  There’s a chiming repeating guitar sound and a big rumbling bass. And of course the vocal delivery is about as far from Jeff Tweedy as you can get.

Austin sings the first two verses while the responding chants move further down the lyrics of “I Got You,” now chanting something else.

There’s  simple weird synth solo in the middle.  Then the end half of the song is loud and dancey with a lot of chanting, “It’s the end of the century” and an unhinged guitar solo.

This song sounds like neither of the two songs it’s taken from, making this a fascinating and ultimately very cool cover.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 3

Volume three is the penultimate volume of the series.  I can’t believe how short this series is.  It seems like so little has actually happened and yet so much has gone on.

The story continues where volume 2 left off–in fact the first thing we see is the robot that Jet has destroyed.  But it is not destroyed, it easily rights itself and takes off after Jet.

Jet returns to the train to get Oz, but the robot is right behind them.  Jet uses a clever maneuver to avoid the robot who crashes into the train while it is on a huge bridge.  The train starts to goes over, bringing Oz (and presumably the conductor(!!) with it.  Jet is able to rescue Oz at the last second (no word on anyone else).  Nevertheless, Oz refuses to give Jet the oil cell, even though Oz is clearly dying.   Finally Jet has to punch Oz to save himself.  Jet flies Oz back to his family.

But Oswald is still not happy about Jet and he reveals what he knows to Roman and Jesse.  They drive off leaving Jet n a field.  And that’s where the man with the beard finds him.

He says this is the longest that Jet has stayed in one place. Jet reveals that he thinks the family needs him and he want to stay.  But the man says that is he stays he will bring the entire military to their doorstep. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-“Company in My Back” (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.

Cate Le Bon is a fascinating character, an esoteric Welsh singer who experiments with interesting sounds.  I don’t know that there’s many people like her.  I’m looking forward to seeing her live with Kurt Vile in a couple of months.

Her take on this familiar song is pretty simple—she sings with a kind of deadpan delivery which really accentuates the words.  The verses are a sort of repetitive sound that sounds like a full-sized toy piano with some cool bass lines throughout.

When the chorus kicks in there’s all kind of unexpected horn sounds flitting about.

It’s pretty far from the original but is really fun.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust Vol. 2

Volume 2 resumes right where the last book left off.  We’re at the Taylor farm and Roman is looking at the pitchfork that Jesse used to stop the machine that was heading toward the farm.  But Roman has more questions about the pitchfork than the machine.  After inspecting it he decides that only Jesse’s grandfather, Mr. Aicot could have made a pitchfork that could stop a machine like that.

Roman fixes up the machine so that it will repair his truck.  But it seems to go after Jesse–it stops short of doing anything to her but it sure gives her the creeps.  This is a good point to say how cool these machine robots are.  Their faces are essentially a triangular Venetian blind look.  Horizontal lines with a pointed front (like a nose).  They are dressed in long coats and look incredibly menacing.

Meanwhile Jet is feeling weaker and weaker.  Oz is spying on him and sees Jet remove his power cell–Oz realizes that jet is a robot!  This freaks him out.  He bikes to Mr Aicot’s house and reveals the secret.  Mr Aicot says that he knew already, but he never said anything to anyone because no one would believe him,

Then he has some things to show Oswald. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JIMMY EAT WORLD-Tiny Desk Concert #938 (January 29, 2020).

I’ll never understand the logistics of the Tiny Desk Concert setup.

This Concert features Jimmy Eat World, an unarguably huge band (at one time at least).  They’re doing something cool–playing their songs acoustically with no drums.

And they play for … less than 12 minutes.

Meanwhile the previous Tiny Desk Concert was by a young reggae person who, while she won a Grammy, is certainly not as well known or regarded as Jimmy Eat World.  And she got 15 minutes.  I’m okay with bands that I like playing a short set, it’s just frustrating that so many bands that I don’t know–usually in genres I don’t like as much–get two and sometimes three times as much air time.

But whatever.   Maybe the bands don’t want to play for that long.  But Jimmy Eat World came for their Tiny Desk Concert looking to have fun.

Jimmy Eat World showed up to the NPR Music office all smiles and no guitars, goofing off with toy instruments behind the Tiny Desk and cracking jokes. They borrowed a couple acoustics, a miniature gong and tambourine emblazoned with Bob Boilen’s face, which set the tone for a slightly silly, but altogether gracious performance.

They open with “Love Never” which features Jim Adkins singing lead and Robin Vining singing harmony.  I never noticed how fantastic their harmonies are–they are really spot on.  I wonder if it’s more noticeable in this stripped down format (or maybe it’s because Vining is a touring member and was picked because his voice is amazing).

What’s really funny during this song is that drummer Zach Lind is standing behind them the whole time doing nothing. And then for the last note, he hits Bob Boilen’s gong.  It’s pretty funny and everyone cracks up.

The next song, “All the Way (Stay)” comes from the band’s tenth album, Surviving.  [They have been around for twenty-seven years!].  Zach plays the tambourine.   Again, the vocal harmonies are outstanding as Robin picks out the melody while Jim strums.

Introducing the final song, Jim says their new songs reflect their earlier song ideas: “Your sense of self-worth coming from external validation is an empty pursuit,”

Guitarist Tom Linton joins the band for the final song.  During the introduction, Adkins gets distracted by Tom’s guitar (and goofs about throat singing) before getting everyone super excited that they’re going to play “The Middle.”

I’m fascinated to realize that I’ve known this song for nearly 30 years.  It’s still fun to sing along to–which the audience does.

this feel-good Bleed American single has remained a constant source of goodness in a sometimes bleak world. When the audience joins in for the last chorus, an uplifting catharsis streaked through our hearts as we all sang, “Everything, everything will be just fine / Everything, everything will be all right, all right.”

I’m always thrilled when bands like this get a Tiny Desk and I hope there’s more to come!

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 1

Volume 1 picks up right where the prologue left off.  We are at Roman Taylor’s farm.  Roman is typing a letter to his (deceased?) father.  He says that mom is doing good and the little ones are fine. He hopes little Oswald will stick round, he could sure use help on the farm.

Then he tells about Jet Jones.

How on the day he arrived, Jet came screaming through the sky like he’d been shot out of a cannon.  He crashed through the barn and into the field.   When Roman went to look at him he heard a sound coming from behind the barn.   It was a large machine, clearly on a mission

The machine grabbed the boy and hurled him into a tree–which snapped in half. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KOFFEE-Tiny Desk Concert #937 (January 27, 2020).

I can honestly say I didn’t know that there were musicians making new reggae music.  I mean, obviously there are–it’s not like the genre just stopped or anything–but I never hear about them.

So I was pretty surprised to play this Tiny Desk Concert and hear a reggae song start up.

Koffee is a 19 year-old Jamaican reggae star.  She just won a Grammy for best Reggae album (for an EP).  She is the first woman and the youngest artist to win the category.

She sings four songs.

“Raggamuffin” opens with her shouting out NPR quite a lot (is that all improvised or is she modifying existing lyrics?).  While the music has the typical reggae rhythm (although faster than old school reggae to be sure), her delivery is really amazing.  She sing (raps?) so fast during the verses.  It’s really an impressive display even if I can’t understand a word she says.

Her band is from different places around the world

“Rapture” has her singing along with her backing singers, Zhayna France and Shanice Drysdale (both from Jamaica) who really flesh out her voice.  There’s some cool moments where the lyrics pause to allow her to say a pointed word.  This song has a guitar solo from Thomas Broussard (from Paris).  It’s also really fun watching drummer Stephen Asamoah-Duah (London) and percussionist Stephen Forbes (Jamaica) communicating with each other and high-fiving at the end of the song.

Koffee centers her music around faith, resilience and gratitude. She has a new perspective to add to the pantheon of mostly male reggae greats and it’s resonating with a new generation that’s just getting hip to the iconic sounds. As her Tiny Desk performance shows, Koffee makes the best of her surroundings, channeling the day’s buzzy energy into a balancing act of youthful heart and old-pro precision, proving why she has become one of the most invigorating voices in reggae.

“Toast” opens with a fun keyboard melody from David Melodee (London).  Then the full song kicks in with a groovy five string bass from Nana Pokes (London) and acoustic guitar strumming from Broussard.  Mid song he switches back to electric for a brief solo.

“I want to thank everybody who’s been involved,” Koffee told the crowd halfway through her show. “You have now become a part of my journey.”

The final song “W” is her latest single.  It’s a slower ballad.  I realize that she has a pretty heavy Jamaican accent but I really can’t tell how many times she says the letter W in the song.  It sounds lie a lot, but perhaps she’s rhyming it with something ele.

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 0

Royden Lepp was born in the Canadian prairies which I’m sure had some impact on the design of this book–set in fields and farms and colored with sepia tone.

I saw this book series at the library and thought it looked really interesting.  Royden Lepp’s artistic style (and color palette) are really cool and the premise of a military weapon that looks like a little boy is pretty fascinating.

The book starts 48 years ago in the middle of a war.  Amid the human carnage there is a boy with goggles on.  He has on a jetpack and appears to be flying around saving people.  He saves them from a large robotic monster/creature which someone calls a kamikaze drone.

The first forty or so pages are almost wordless–its’ all battle sequences.  It is quite exciting, but it is also without question, a little confusing,   Especially since this a world that is not quite like ours.  (more…)

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