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last3 SOUNDTRACK: NIGHT BEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #266 (February 18, 2013).

nightTypically we don’t see what happens before the Tiny Desk Concert begins, but for this show, there’s a very funny introduction.  Robin clacks the clacker and as the Winston Yellen starts singing you hear Robin interrupt him and say something.  He sings “When the sorrow goooozz….” and laughs as Robin says “much more important than your singing is my introduction.”  Someone in the band jokes, “gather round, take a knee.”

Night Beds are certainly anchored around Yellen’s voice.  The first song is a brief a capella track called “Faithful Heights.”  It segues perfectly into “Ramona,” where you get a better sense for what the band sounds like.  The band kicks in with some lovely guitar work on the electric guitar while Yellen plays acoustic.  Near the end of the song he launches unexpectedly into some really powerful falsetto.  It’s a very pretty song.

“22” features a more pronounced slide guitar which offers some cool spare, echoing sounds.  The final song is “Hide from It,” and older song tha they haven’t played much. It’s a bit faster with nice backing vocals.  There’s a very pretty guitar riff (I love the gentle echo) and keyboards instead of slide guitar.

I found Might Beds to be quite winning.

[READ: January 17, 2017] LastMan 3

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  For the first book I said that it might be okay for a slightly younger audience, but this book changes things–prostitutes, porn mags, threats of violence–nothing explicit but still, way too much for young kids.

This book is also very different from the first two in that it is set in an entirely in a new location.

Adrian and his mom, Marianne, have ridden out to the Rift on her motorcycle.  His mom says that she is going to walk into the mist for a few minutes and she wants him to stay where he is.  And I love this bit:

-Listen Adrian, they say a lot of things in school and at church but in the end what should you always listen to?
-Uh, yes,  I know. Your heart?
-No Silly, what your mother says.

She comes back with a map and realizes that the rift is passable.  They arrive on the outskirts of a town and are caught by some thugs.  It’s very Mad Max looking with the men being really grotesque and planning to proceed with the rape of the delinquent.  Yikes.

As they get close, Adrian’s mother does a summoning and knocks everyone around her down–many of them flee.  Adrian is in awe of his mom.

They ride into Nillipolis and she is convinced that Richard is there.  But Nillipolis proves to be a scummy town.  We meet a guy who works at a brothel, Francis.  He’s the only nice person in the whole town (as are the prostitutes, particularly Flora, the prettiest woman in the book).  They suggest looking in the pawn shop for evidence of Richard.  And indeed in the shop they see the cup that he and Adrian won–it’s even got their names on it.

There’s a lot of excitement in this book with Adrian and his mom fleeing from the thugs who are with the police and the fireman and then  dealing with two attorneys: Raven and Delacruz.  She is being placed under arrest for charges of false prostitution.  But it’s really because they have tied her to Richard–who is in fact in the same prison.

The last quarter of the book is taken up with the trail.  And this trial is unlike any you’ve seen.  There are cheerleaders.  And, it quickly becomes obvious that you win your case through violence and strength and little else.  If your attorney is killed, then you get the death sentence.

We also learn that there’s a grizzled old creepy dude in a wheelchair who wants the map that she has–he believes that the Valley of Kings–where Adrian and his mom are from–has the secret to eternal life.

The book ends on board a ship to Paxtown–a questionable city.  Richard is heading there as well, and it looks like Cristo, the person in the mask who Richard defeated in the battle is there too.

But we’ll have to wait until book 4 to find out just what’s going on.

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lastman2 SOUNDTRACK: THE xx-Tiny Desk Concert#265 (February 11, 2013).

xxI have really come to like The xx quite a lot.  And this Tiny Desk Concert is easily one of the best instances of them.  It is just the two of them, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim She [No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel].  She sings and plays a very echoing guitar and he plays a very spare bass (also echoed).  Her voice on “Angels” is whispered but not quiet—she sounds amazing. Everything about the performance is clear and beautiful

The only bad thing about the Concert is that they only play 2 songs (and for less that 7 minutes total!)

The blurb says that one of the things that makes this show especially great is that “the setting and band configuration robs them of cover.  [There is] no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.”

When Oliver sings the middle verse on “Sunset” it is a wonderful, stark (and sexy) moment.   When she starts playing the guitar again after the brief bass interlude, it sounds magical.  And their duet at the end is amazingly powerful (especially for something so quiet).

[READ: December 17, 2016] LastMan 2

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (Unlike the first book, this one is slightly more explicit–nothing actually shown, but Richard runs through the town naked and he and a woman are in bed together).

This book picks up where the previous one left off.  Adrian takes on Gregorio.  And Adrian is able to knock him out of the ring.  Adrian wins!  This means he must now fight Elorna, his friend.  Gregorio is humiliated at losing and he is rather mean to Elorna.  And during the match, Elorna bursts into tears and flees the ring, forfeiting and letting Adrian and Richard go to the semifinals.

They are up against Alyssa and Haldes (Haldes is preposterously large and Alyssa is covered by a scarf on her face).  Things get weird in this one when Alyssa recognizes Richard (I won’t say from where).  I’m not exactly sure what happens to her, but she is eventually dragged out of the ring by Haldes–more or less forfeiting as well.

So our heroes are going to the final. (more…)

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lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: action LIANNE LA HAVAS-Tiny Desk Concert #475 (October 2, 2015).

lianneLianne La Havas has a lovely, soulful voice. I didn’t think I knew her at all, although her song “What You Don’t Do” sounds really familiar. The chorus is a bouncy “It’s what you don’t do…it’s what you don’t say.”  But it’s the fast pre-chorus “I know what I got / and I know where were going / You don’t need to show it / I already know it all” that is really catchy.

I feel like the original is big and orchestrated.  But for this Tiny Desk it’s just her and a backing singer accompanied by a pianist who also sings backing vocals.

For song two “Unstoppable,” Lianne straps on a guitar and when she finally speaks–she has British accent!  “Unstoppable” is a gentle song with a cyclical guitar riff playing through the gentle pianos while all three voices soar.

It’s amazing how British she sounds after the second song–remarkable because of how unaccented her singing voice is.

On “Forget,” she plays guitar and there’s no other instrumentation.  This song sounds quite different from the others–the scratchy guitar isn’t really louder than the other songs, just much faster and more intense.  The real hook though comes in the chorus when all three sing a big loud “Forget!” in a memorable melody.

La Havas’ music veers towards R&B but never falls into the trappings of the genre.  She has some rock elements sand soul elements and her delivery is just charming.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning Characters in Action

This is the fourth and (presumably) final book in the AIC series is called Characters in Action!  And as you see on the cover, the man screaming Action is a film director.  So this book is gong to take us on flights of (even more) fancy.

The book starts with the knight riding his faithful horse, Edward.  A fly goes by.  Sigh, it’s boring.

But as he rides off, he runs into a band of scoundrels–a viking, a wicked wizard an evil owl and an evil king and they are all there to do… evil!  And as they are talking about how evil they are, the real king (in rags) comes and says that he is the king.  The fake king says he looks like a beggar, then a real beggar says that the king is not a real beggar.  And then a big strong-looking knight looks at our favorite knight and says the he is no knight, either.  Egads, what is happening? (more…)

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xmasSOUNDTRACK: OH PEP!-Tiny Desk Concert #479 (October 16, 2015).

ohpepOh Pep! is a four piece from Melbourne, Australia.  As My Bubba was named for its two members, Oh Pep! derives its Oh from Olivia Hally (vocals, guitar) and its Pep! from Pepita Emmerichs (violin, mandolin).

“The Race” is indeed about a race: “You started skipping in a running race.”  It’s a fast upbeat song–almost punky but for the fact that they are playing acoustic guitar and plucked violin (the violin really adds some great sound to this song).  I love her  fast delivery and that delivery that reminds me in some way of The Smiths.  I love the ending of four quick drum hits.

When the first song ends, they are adorably star struck.  They say that they saw Bob in front row of the crowd at the showcase and were glad “he was someone important.”  They’ve watched tons of Tiny Desk shows online an are excited to be there.

“Doctor Doctor” is pretty straightforward folky rock song, but the plucked violin (held like a guitar) works as a great accent.  The melody is familiar and you can almost hear it in the lyrics: “I went to the psychic and the psychic said he wanted to, but it’s up to you….”  I love the repeated refrain: “I know what I want and it’s not what I need.”  Even better is midway through the song when the unexpected bowed violin kicks in–and the fact that it is a little wavery and not a “clean, sharp” sounding solo really works as the song propels toward the end.

As Oh tunes her guitar she says it doesn’t know where it is: They were in Australia, then Halifax.  It was hot in Louisiana and now it’s raining–her guitar won’t stay in tune.

For the third song “Tea, Milk & Honey,” Pepe plays the mandolin.   The song starts with just guitar and voice and seems likes that’s all it will be because this section lasts pretty long–two and a half minutes of the total 5 and a half).  When the bass and mandolin eventually come in, the song really blossoms.  The chorus of “tea, milk and honey never satisfied me” is clever and fun.   Another surprising moment comes near the end when there’s a violin solo and the sound of the violin is almost like a flute-like.  It’s very cool.

Oh Pep! is a fun band that I’d like to hear more from.

[READ: July 7, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning Christmas Special

What series would be complete without a Christmas special?

This Christmas story is even told in rhyme!:  “Santa is grumbling that traditions are crumbling.” Quality toys are a thing of the past.  But the elf points out that kids don’t want old-fashioned gifts–all the elves do is “write code and upload.”

I rather enjoy that the premise of this books is that video games and TV are bad (but not really).  The point is that books and drawing are pretty awesome and great uses of your imagination.

Santa imagines a comic book which will be exciting for kids and then *poof* here comes the Magical Cartooning Elf.  He says they’ll make an exciting, outrageous comic. And *poof* here is the knight (who is mad that everyone is speaking n rhyme). (more…)

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activitySOUNDTRACK: MY BUBBA-Tiny Desk Concert #485 (November 6, 2015).

mybubbaMy Bubba are a duo that consists of Sweden’s My Larsdotter and Iceland’s Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir (Bubba).  They sing quiet, delicate songs about Scandinavian things (including knitting).

The set begins with a clapping rhythm as both My and Bubba execute a complex rhythmic clapping (in cool synchronicity) using all parts of their bodies.  They both sing delicately with occasional harmonies.  And the sweet title of the song: “Dogs Laying Around Playing.”

For the second song, “Charm” Bubba plays guitar and My plays an old table harp.  This song is just as delicate as the first.  Somehow that table harp seems to make the song even lighter than the first.

There’s a pause after the second song where My drinks some tea and Bubba asks if there are any questions?  Bob asks them to tell a scary train story, because My is a locomotive engineer when they are not singing.  She laughs and says “My train hit a wild boar and it made a big bam and then she kept going.”  She hopes her boss isn’t listening.   Then My says she writes a lot of songs while she is driving the train to relieve boredom.  Bubba confirms that on one song on the new album you can hear the train because My recorded herself singing in the train.

“Knitting” is a capella and may have more going on than knitting, but  don’t think so.  The final song, “Ghost Sweat” is a new one. Bubba plays guitar and loops it.  My sings lead and when Bubba comes in with the harmonies, it sounds fantastic.

The music is delicate but not so precious that it will float away.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book

The guys from Adventures in Cartooning are back.  This time with a book that encourages the reader to fill in the blanks.  The full title of this release is The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents Adventures in Cartooning: Activity Book.

But unlike most do it yourself books, this one has two functions.  It tells a story that you get to impact and it teaches some of the basics of cartooning as well.

The story focuses on the same gang from the main book–the knight, Edward the horse and the Elf, but there’s much more going on.  As the book opens, we see the moon and sun talking.  The moon is ready to go to bed and he is content because of the bedtime story he heard.  Bu the sun never gets told a bedtime story and she begins to cry.  Poor sun. (more…)

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adventSOUNDTRACK: THE WILD REEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #489 (November 20, 2015).

wildreedsThe Wild Reeds are a five piece band who prominently feature a trio of women with beautiful voices. They had submitted a video for the 2014 Tiny Desk Contest, and they are pretty excited to be at the Tint Desk just a short time later.

The trio change instruments so it’s not easy to say who does what.  And since all three of them have gorgeous voices, you can’t even single one out!  When they sing together it’s even more impressive.

“Where I’m Going” is the great lead-off track (from their 2014 album).  Kinsey Lee sings lead and plays acoustic guitar (and harmonica).  Sharon Silva plays electric guitar and Mackenzie How plays harmonium (and harmonica).  Kinsey has a powerful kind of rocking voice while the other two offer great harmonies.  There’s some moments where all three are singing super loud and it’s really impressive.

The next two songs are new.

Sharon sings lead on “Everything Looks Better In Hindsight” and continues to play a really rocking electric guitar (she really crushes those chords). Kinsey switches to banjo, but also plays harmonium.  Mackenzie also plays electric guitar and this song rocks pretty hard.  Sharon’s voice is a bit smoother until the chorus where she wails.  And the harmonies are again outstanding.  I think it is Mackenzie’s harmonies that really elevate the song.

There are a bassist and drummer (unnamed) who add low end to the first two song (but not the final one).  The trio is the focus, but the rhythm section’s contributions are really good.

Mackenzie sings lead on  “The World We Built”  This is the most mellow of the three songs. She plays electric guitar (the only music in the song) and the other two sing harmonies.

Although their music can veer in the country direction, their voices are so good you can easily look past it.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning

The full title of this release is The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents Adventures in Cartooning: How To Turn You Doodles into Comics.  This is an instructional cartooning book which also tells a fun story.

And I loved it.  I have recently discovered James Sturms’ books, and I love his simple but powerful style.

As it opens “Once upon a time, a princess tried to make a comic.”  The girl says she can’t draw well enough to make a comic But the Magic Cartooning Elf comes to help her.  He says that if she can draw simple stuff, then there is nothing stopping her. (more…)

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