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Archive for the ‘Scientists’ Category

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 #893 (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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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHED-“Electric Chair” (Field Recordings, July 25, 2012).

This Field Recording [Bleached: Picnic Table Punk] is related to SXSW (it was filmed on the eve of the 2012 Festival at a food-truck parking lot [The awesomely named Hoover’s Soular Food] off the highway — about a mile northeast of Austin’s swarming 6th Street.

Jennifer and Jessica Clavin make up the core of Bleached, a rough-and-tumble garage-rock band.  Bleached is one of many young punk-infused acts playing three-minute, three-chord bashers with sneering, unraveled immediacy. When played on stage, the band’s music takes on a messy-but-fun live-wire buoyancy.  “Electric Chair,” is a distortion-fueled strumfest built around [literally] two lines: “Just got out the electric chair / and I don’t see you anywhere.”

It almost sounds like they aren’t plugged in (“we’re playing too loud,” one of them says)–you can hear the pick hitting the strings almost as much as the chords themselves.  Adn someone sounds a wee bit out of tune, but that all seems appropriate for this band.  This song is a simple (very simple) rough and tumble garage rock song.

Assisted by Sara Jean Stevens on bass and drummer Jonathan Safley — here playing a light-up tambourine bought at the last second from a tchotchke shop — Bleached showcases its fun, off-the-cuff spirit. It may lack meticulous precision, but the band’s infectious energy and simple, winning hooks more than compensate.

I don’t really care for garage rock all that much and this song doesn’t do all that much for me.  It is too spare and, honestly, I need at least one extra lyric.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Flower Hunters”

This story is set on Halloween.  But the protagonist, a mom, has forgotten about the day entirely.  The last two days she was absorbed in a book by naturalist William Bartram, who traveled through Florida in 1774 (he’s a real person).  And so, although her boys wanted to be ninjas, she had made one a costume that was a long-sleeved shirt tied in the back and a slotted mask.  The boy is calling himself Cannibal Lecture.  The other boy is getting an old fashioned sheet-as-ghost (she is made uncomfortable about a white boy in a sheet but hopes the rosebuds on the hem mitigate the effects somewhat.

Her husband comes in from work, sees the costumes, raises an eyebrow, remains merciful.

What I really liked about the story was the narrator’s tone.

“She says to her dog, who is beside her at the window…One day you’ll wake up and realize your favorite person has turned into a person-shaped cloud.
The dog ignores her, because the dog is wise.

In addition to failing Halloween , the woman is also failing at friendship.  Her best friend, Meg, told her she doesn’t want to be her best friend anymore: “I’m sorry, I just need to take a break.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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