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Archive for the ‘Robots’ Category

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 #939 (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 #938 (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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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN–“Do You Realize??” (2019).

Here’s yet another cover of a great song by an artist I like a lot.

Sharon Van Etten covered the Flaming Lips’ song for the final episode of the Amazon Series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life On Normal Street.  This show is quite outstanding.  It’s a kid’s show but it has a lot of really great ideas.  T. watched most of it although I think maybe she stopped before the end.

Sharon’s take on the song was

When I was asked to cover a Flaming Lips song for Gortimer Gibbons, I was really nervous. But when I watched the scene and heard from the people involved in the music, they really wanted to hear my interpretation of both the scene and the song.  The show is sweet and smart and family oriented—and that is really important to me.

I can’t exactly imagine how this song, which is simultaneously uplifting and depressing, fits into this show.   I imagine it’s a sad scene, but again I haven’t seen it.

The original of this grows bigger and bigger as the verses continue.  There’s backing vocals, swelling strings/keyboards and a really epic feel.

Sharon’s version pulls all of that back.

It opens with keyboards, but they are quiet and soft, almost like a harmonium or accordion.  As she sings she strums along on the acoustic guitar.  She sings the song mostly faithfully to the original, although she does occasionally alter the melody line a bit.  Just before the chorus, a quiet drum beat enters but that’s really it for changes in the song.

It’s really understated and lovely.  And although I prefer the original because it’s just so darn good, this is a beautiful cover which brings new elements to the song.

[READ: September 25, 2019] Glitch

Scholastic Graphix is pretty consistently one of my favorite publishers for really good children’s graphic novels.  The stories are for kids, for sure, but they are gripping and entertaining for adults as well.

Glitch has a great look and an even better story.

We open with two girls, Izzy and Eric, drooling over a new video game: Dungeon City.  Izzy’s copy of the game is arriving this weekend which means VIDEO GAME SLEEPOVER!  Better yet, Izzy’s parents are not at home, so it will be snacks and games and pizza all night long.

When Izzy gets home, her game is waiting for her.  And while she knows she should wait for the weekend, it couldn’t hurt to see what it looks like.  The graphics are amazing and within seconds, she is sucked into the TV and into the game.  Literally.  After orienting herself, she is greeted by a robot (which is, strangely, missing an eye).  The robot offers to rescue her and Izzy rightly points out that she doesn’t need rescuing.  However, she will accept guidance from the robot who is named Rae.  But when Rae asks to hold Izzy’s hand, Izzy refuses that as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Centre Halifax NS (December 07, 1996).

This is the 19th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

The show starts with Dorothy introducing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and then she begins singing the song.  After a verse, the acoustic guitar comes strumming in and Tim announces that “This one’s for Wilf Carter.”  [Wilf Carter, known as Montana Slim in the United States, was a Canadian Country and Western singer, songwriter, guitarist, and yodeller. Widely acknowledged as the father of Canadian country music.  He died on Dec 5].

It sounds great.  the final strains of guitar lead into a beautiful “California Dreamline.”  It’s followed by a “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” that features a middle “dance” section, with Dave chanting: “Tuesday night at the discotheque, I can dance, what the heck.  I’m an Uzbek.  Wer’e all freakin’ Uzbeks.

The ending feedback segues into the introductory noises of “Motorino.”  Martin says it comes from their new album.  “It’s called The Blue Hysteria its about not having much money.  Dave: “That’s the green hysteria, martin.”  Tim:  “Blue hysteria as about playing your stereo too loud and blowing it up.”  That’s a sort of introduction to “Bad Time to be Poor.”

Dave says “It’s great to be in hockey rink, The Moosehead Dome.  We played in the Devonshire Arena last night, a private affair.  It was hockey though, not rock.  We’re all a little sore, a little better off, a little stronger in character.

Up next is “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine,” during which Martin drops out of an entire verse–the music sounds great through.  You hear someone asks “want to do it again?”  but they press on and martin platys the noisy guitars that lead into RICH!

Then comes “two big songs back to back,” a ripping “Feed Yourself”  followed by a full 8 minute “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream.”  It begins with a pretty, meandering guitar melody that Martin songs along to (in a high falsetto, la la l a)–its  quite lovely.  Then it segues into a roaring version of “Midwinter.”  The band sounds great and the feedbacking noise martin generates before the end is just amazing.

This might be my favorite version of the song.  It’s a show-stopper indeed.

[READ: March 20, 2019] Science Comics: Robots and Drones

I have enjoyed every Science Comic that has come out.  Most of them seem almost too full of information.  But this one was actually one of the less jam-packed books.  And that was kind of nice.

After an introduction from Sabine Hauert, the co-founder of Robohub.org, we are taken to a prototype robot from 350 BCE (!).  In Tarentum Italy, we see a “mechanical” bird created by Archytas.  It flies (perhaps on a string) and crashes instantly.   The bird snaps out of it and introduces himself –call him Pouli.  Pouli was the first machine to ever fly and he will take us through the past and future of robots and drones.

Pouli tries to break our familiarity with what a robot is by showing a simple robot–the coffeemaker.  It has as simple job.  It’s a modern version of the automaton.  Of course we have more sophisticated R/C cars and roombas now.  Some day soon there will be self-driving cars. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Murder of the Universe (2017)

Every KGATLW album is different.  Including this one.  Murder of the Universe is their second album of 2017.  It is narrative concept album split into three separate stories, each containing elements of spoken word to carry a narrative. The first two chapters feature Leah Senior’s narration, while NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech application narrates the final chapter.  And it totally rocks.  There’s great riff, distorted guitars and harmonicas and lots of whooping vocals.

There are, essentially three stories on this disc.  The first chapter, The Tale of the Altered Beast, is about a human who stumbles on a mystical human/beast hybrid.  The narration is quite long and deadpan and tells a fairly complex story, which starts:

As soon as the dust settles, you can see
A new world in place of where the old one had been
Your skin is crawling with dry, crusted mud
And your naked feet are wet in a pool of blood
And the whistle of the wind in your ears is so loud
That your memories have blown up in a mushroom cloud
And as your eyes accommodate
There appears by the meadow
A brute like a bear with a long, dark shadow
And you violently shake over what you have seen
As you remember the tale of the Altered Beast

Nearly each of the nine tracks has narration interspersed with singing.  There’s a lot of repeated sections, but more as a thematic choice rather than as repetition.  The titles of the songs are indicative of this: Altered Beast I, II, III and IV and Alter Me I, II and III.  But those parts are not simply repeats.  Rather, they allude to each other with repeated riffs and words.  But even though parts are repeated there are plenty of original riffs throughout.

The third part of “Alter Me” has a cool 80’s sci-fi keyboard sound, which works perfectly before the noisy harmonica returns.

The “Altered Beast” story is the longest part of the story at 19 minutes.  And the final “Altered Beast” part has a very nifty fast section that I believe is in 11/4.

The last track “Life/Death” is very different–keyboard-fueled and almost poppy sounding, this final minute of the story is not a happy one.

The second chapter, The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, focuses on a battle between the forces of light of darkness.   And the segue between the two, called “Some Context” references “People-Vultures” from Nonagon Infinity.

It opens with guitarist Joey Walker’s Mongolian throat singing behind the narration on some of the tracks.  This adds an extra sense of ominousness to the story.

So the main story is a battle between The Lord of Lightning and Balrog and  they each get a song:

When the songs proper start, “The Lord of Lightning’s” theme is somewhat proggy with all kinds of ostinato (to use a term form the narration).  In addition to keyboard parts and some heavy rocking parts, there’s a callback to the chorus of “Nonagon Infinity.”  The music for this chapter is very complicated with fits and starts and various drum lines.

While the interstitials in the first chapter were done with an interesting guitar riff, the interstitials in this part come with a fast rumbling bass line.  “Balrog” has a lot of chanting befits a KGATLW song.

The war comes to a head in the Floating Fire which has more throat singing and a martial beat and its aftermath “The Acrid Corpse” … but which one is the corpse?

The third and final chapter, Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg in a digital world who gains consciousness and decides to strive only for what a cyborg cannot do: vomit and die.  How very King Gizzard.  There’s a lot about vomit in this song. Maybe it was just fun hearing the robotic voice say vomit?

He decides to create a creature dubbed the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” whose only purpose is to vomit. When the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which causes it to lose control. This machine explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe: and so the universe is murdered.

It opens with keyboard swirls, like the opening credits a sci-fi soap opera

This is a much heavier bunch of songs, like the thumping (with extra drums) on “Digital Black.”  Over a futuristic keyboard section Han-Tyumi recites his problem:

I am bereft of two human things
Two things that a cyborg can never do
Two things that I strive for
Two things between myself and mankind
Death
And
To vomit

This story is bonkers.  But it totally rocks and it leads to the really catchy song (which they played live when I saw them called, what else, “Vomit Coffin.”  The final song is a tour de force of instrumental power while HanTyumi talks of vomiting and getting bigger and bigger until he destroys the universe.  Gross and hilarious and totally rocking.  Destroying the Universe never sounded so good.

[READ: February 28, 2019] Castle in the Stars 2

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

Part two continues with the beautiful look of his book.  I am really fascinated at the way these characters can look at time cartoonish and at times almost photo-realistic (in soft focus).

At the end of the last book our team escaped from certain danger by jumping aboard an aethership.  The crew is Seraphin (whose mother has been lost in the aether when she took a ship there and never returned), Seraphim’s father as well as Seraphim’s friend Sophie (a girl!) and her half-brother Hans (the very cartoony looking character). They are joined by King Ludwig whom we are told at the begiinning of the story just wanted to leave everything behind. (more…)

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