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Archive for the ‘Scientists’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BUCK CURRAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #17 (May 1, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Buck Curran, an American guitarist living in Bergamo, Italy, “the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.”

Years ago, Curran met Adele Pappalardo while on tour, fell in love and started a family. They have a son about to turn three years old and another child due in August. “We’re trying to survive,” Curran says. “And be positive,” Pappalardo adds. Soon residents in Italy will be allowed to use parks, visit relatives and attend funerals.

This Tiny Desk is blurbed by Lars Gottrich (which explains why I don’t know this guy–Lars travels in the obscure).  He sums up the music of Curran perfectly:

There’s a burning darkness to these songs, as Curran’s rough-hewn voice and droning psych-folk melodies curl like smoke, but there’s also a desperate hope that cracks the surface.

His songs are slow and droney without a lot of change ups.  Adele sings backing ooohs and aahs on the new “Deep in the Lovin’ Arms of My Babe” and “New Moontide” from 2016’s Immortal Light.  I preferred this song because it opened with some lovely guitar harmonics.  Although it’s about six minutes long and most of that six minutes sounds the same.

Adele leaves and he plays “Ghost on the Hill” which is getting its debut live performance.  He ends with an instrumental, “Blue Raga.”  It has some really interesting chord progressions and is my favorite song of the set.

[READ: January 2020] The Soul of an Octopus

S. bought me this book for Christmas because she knows how much I enjoy octopuses (it’s not octopi–you can’t put a Latin ending on a word derived from Greek).

This book was absolutely wonderful.

It opens with Sy explaining that she was heading from her home in New Hampshire to the New England Aquarium.  She had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.

She summarizes some of the reasons why octopuses are so cool

Here is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen.  It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can pour its baggy, boneless body through an opening the size of an orange.  It can change color and shape.  It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating of all, I had read that octopuses are smart.

This is all so fascinating to me because when I was a kid, I feel like octopus were boring, scary, purple blobs.  Why didn’t we know they were so cool?

Probably because people didn’t know much about octopuses until fairly recently.  In fact, we are still learning a lot about them.  Like that one three-inch sucker can lift 30 pounds–and a giant Pacific octopus has 1,600 suckers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #959 (March 13, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Chika, but she proves to be really fun and funny (while rapping some serious topics).

Her band is jazzy and stripped back:

Chika was also the first hip-hop act to anchor her set with just a Peruvian cajón instead of a full, hard-hitting kit. The surprisingly stripped-down performance allowed her lyrics, with all their nuance, to take center stage — and the result was remarkable.

In addition to the band, were her terrific backing vocalists

The impressive harmonies from Chika’s four backup singers brought all the feels right out of the gate.

She starts with “Industry Games.”  Lovely ooohs from the backing vocalists then David Levitan plays an echoing guitar (“both catchy and eerily haunting” that I found reminiscent of the Close Encounters melody).  Up comes that cajon with gentle thumps from Dominic Missana.  Then she starts rapping.

Moving seamlessly between rap verse and melodic hooks, Chika showcased her unusual tonality, multi-cadence delivery and vocal range, with an effortless, double-time lyrical bounce.

She has a fantastic fast flow (smiling as she goes).  It’s interesting hearing the gentle backing vocals that repeat her (sometime harsh) final lines.

She even starts giggling in the middle.  She explains later “I say ‘tightest around’ and they sing ‘hottest around’ and it is hysterical to me.”

Before the next song she says, “Everyone brings nice things to the Tiny Desk, like lights…  I didn’t bring anything, or so you thought.  I brought this Chapstick and I’m gonna place that right here.  Fuck anyone who underestimated me.”

She says that “Songs About You.”  No shade to anyone.  It’s not about y’all. its about you.  The song features more nice backing vocals and then a grooving bass line from Chris McClenny.

Before the third song she sends a shout out to her sister who is there.  “Shout out to our parents… genetics!”  She asks, “What kind of shows are you wearing?”  “Puma…”  “You should have been wearing ‘Balencies,’ which is the name of the next song. She pauses and waits for the laughter.  Then says, “I’m funny.  We’re not gonna argue about that.  You all didn’t want to laugh… something about that felt racist.”

The backing vocals are wild and weird as it starts, Danielle Withers sounds like a perfect loop of an eccentric vocal line.  It’s pretty magnificent–I really hope she goes somewhere with a distinctive voice like that (I see that she has sung with some pretty big names already).

The other singers are (l-r) Jabri Rayford; Darius Dixson and Rachel Robinson (she’s standing on a box).

“Crown” has some great lyrics

I got a habit of rapping ’bout tragic sh-
I think I’m just passionate
Tryna steer the way while in the dark
Hope I ain’t crashin’ it (Woah)
Now my little hobby turned to cashin’ out
Thinking ’bout who I’d be if I listened to doubt
Said I’d never do it, well look at me now

Okay
This is for the kids with depression
The one’s whose parental expectations got them stressin’ (Woah)
The one’s who would rather persevere, bust they ass, tryna make it ’cause-
They ain’t really livin’ in the present

The set ends, oddly enough with “Intro” which is a very quiet song.  Gentle guitars and  a quiet rap.

This was a really satisfying set.  her songs were short and to the point.  The lyrics were powerful and affecting and the music was a nice accompaniment.

[READ: April 2, 2020] Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks worked together on the awesome book Primates.  Now they are back sending some primates into space.

I just love Wicks’ artwork.  She manages to do such amazing things with such simple-seeming drawings.  Her eyes are (mostly) dots, the faces are almost all simple shapes and yet everything she draws is so expressive and conveys exactly what she wants.  It is a pleasure to look at anything she draws.

Ottaviani did a lot of research for this book (obviously) and the end is chock full of resources that you can look at to learn more.

As for the book itself, it is “told” by astronaut Mary Cleave.  It starts with young Mary being told (by the President) that she was too young for the Astronaut Corp.  The letter (from President Eisenhower) did not go on to say that no women were accepted into the Corp, she had to find that out herself.

She was already a practicing pilot at age 14, but that wasn’t good enough.  She then jumps over to another girl her own age over in the Soviet Union.  Valentina Tereshkova was jumping out of planes and training to be a pilot, because the Soviet Union did not have a sexist component in their system.

But in 1959, even though women like Jerrie Cobb were certainly (physically) capable of becoming astronauts, women simply weren’t chosen.  Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart testified before Congress where sexism (and simple, painful examples are provided) ruled the day.  They were even shut down by Jacqueline Cochran, a director at an airline, who said women should not even be pilots because they get married and leave after two years. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISHI BASHI-“All I Want for Christmas is You” (2019).

The 2018 JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 compilation also featured a Christmas song by Kishi Bashi.

It begins with him muttering.  “It’s Christmas.  It’s never Christmas when you’re recording Christmas songs.”

What follows is the remarkably conventional song I’ve heard Kishi Bashi record.  Aside form the obviously hugely conventional nature of one of Christmas’ biggest songs, the style of his singing along with the backing vocals and the general feel makes me surprised this version isn’t played more.

Thor Harris who appeared on yesterday’s bizarre Christmas song, makes an appearance here (although I don’t know what he does).  The gorgeous backing vocals come from OHMME (just like yesterday as well).

K. sings this in his lower register–giving him a very croony sounds (one that is rather unlike his normal singing voice).  The only real nod to it being Kishi Bashi is a the cool violin solo (so much better than a sax solo!).

I would listen to this version over any other, hands down.

[READ: December 17, 2019] “The Science Fair Protest”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This was another confusing story that seemed like it might have been based on something … except the whole premise is crazy.

Even the beginning is hard to parse: “When the new gangsters got elected and took control, atoms could no longer be said to be the smallest form of matter.”  What?

This begat the Science Fair Protest, an ongoing violent disruption.  The narrator says he is no science teacher, but his neighbor, Ram, was an eighth grade biology teacher.  Ram said that the gangsters insisted that instead of him having lab hours once a week, he was to take the students to a field to play a game called Stick & Ball.  You have a stick and, not a ball, but a big rock.  You throw the rock in the air and hit it with the stick as hard as you can. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROSANNE CASH-Tiny Desk Concert #894 (September 23, 2019)

I don’t know all that much about Rosanne Cash (I couldn’t recall how she was related to Johnny).  I also assumed that she would be a country artist.  Yet this set is anything but country.  But I guess the key to that is that her voice isn’t country at all, it’s just good.

This blurb also blows my mind a bit about how quickly (or not) they post concerts.  This show was posted in September but was recorded in January–she had to wait quite a while to see it.

Rosanne Cash and her band arrived at NPR to play the Tiny Desk on a freezing cold, bright sunny day in January — one of those brittle, crystal clear winter days when the snow reflects the sun and there’s nowhere to hide from the light. Her intense performance had that same balance of heat and ice.

Cash plays four songs

most taken from her 2018 album She Remembers Everything, have a lot of emotional heat, but they’re shaped and sculpted by the wry wisdom of age and experience. More than at any time in her career, her spirit and approach to performance these days reflects the influence of her father, the legendary country singer Johnny Cash.

“She Remembers Everything” opens with John Leventhal on with Rosanne on acoustic guitar.  Like most of these songs, it feels slow and powerful–kind of bluesy with a dramatic chord progression.  Mid song, Leventhal switches to guitar and plays a great little solo.

When the song is over she praises everyone: “So attentive.  Like a listening room at the NPR offices.”

Up next is “The Only Thing Worth Fighting” which she co-wrote with T Bone Burnett and Lyra Lynn  This song is not so much country as western-sounding.  There’s more nice guitar work from Leventhal.

Zev Katz on bass and Dan Rieser on drums don’t do anything to single them out except for keeping the songs moving properly.  The bass does do some nice lines, but mostly, these are simple songs which need little accompaniment.

For “Everyone But Me” she takes off the guitar.  This is a lovely piano ballad after which she says, “I don’t know if the young people can relate to this song but it means more as you get older.”

The last song is from her album The River and the Thread.  She says the album won a Grammy and the last time she won a Grammy, Ronald Reagan was president.  From this she plays the cool bluesy “A Feather’s Not A Bird.”

This isn’t the kind of music I enjoyed, but I liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot more than I thought I would based on what I thought I knew about Rosanne Cash.

[READ: August 26, 2019] The Adventures of Barry & Joe

After the election that has sent the country spiraling into a level of hell, Adam Reid wanted to do something to make decent-thinking people laugh.

When I saw first saw this, I assumed that Adam Reid was Adam Reed, the creator of Archer and other delightfully dark cartoons.  It took a while for me to realize that he isAdam Reid who is responsible for The Tiny Chef Show.

Aside from that, I don’t really have any familiarity with him.  So that’s kind of interesting, I suppose. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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