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SOUNDTRACK: OK Go-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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tyrantSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTINE SALEM-Tiny Desk Concert #326 (December 14, 2013).

As with many artists behind the Tiny Desk, I had never heard of Christine Salem.  So who is she?

Christine Salem sings songs that are old: They’re work songs and chants from the maloya tradition on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. I first heard her in New York City as she shook a flat board called a kayamb, made of cane reeds, with two percussionists flanking her to provide rhythm.

Salem makes powerful, strongly focused music in which all the elements are essential, with nothing superfluous. She says it feels like the spirits move through her when she plays, and though you may doubt her if you’re a nonbeliever, you’d be hard-pressed to deny her your attention once you hear her.

And that’s pretty spot on.  She sings like a woman possessed–but in a good way–serious catharsis for these intense pieces which are amazingly musical for songs with no instruments except percussion.

“Listwar” showcases her strong, powerful voice when she sings by herself but the whole thing grows amazing when the other voices come in.  But even that doesn’t even prepare you for the wonders of the percussion that come next—that kayamb is mesmerizing, the big drum is so deep and the percussive sticks (which seems like he’s hitting what might be a lectern) all work perfectly.  All of the melody comes from their voices.  The backing guys also seem possessed by the music and the drummer is even laughing he’s so filled with joy.

“Alouwe” begins with claps and rhythmic chanting, which is pretty cool, but again, when the drums come in its even better. Halfway through the tempo picks up and she grabs that kayamb again and the intensity ratchets up.  There’s chanting from the men with lots of laughing and clapping at the end.  The final song is “Komor Blues.”  For this one, she is just by herself playing the drum.  While not as big as the other songs, it is just as intense, especially when the pace speeds up about halfway through.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Tiny Tyrant

I read this book last year, never even imagining that it could somehow be comparable to our then highly unlikely leader.  Reading back on it now, I can’t get over the similarities between this fictional character and our television-inspired president.  I mean, look at how King Ethelbert is described: “Selfish, short-tempered, unscrupulous, stubborn, and willing to do anything to get what he wants.”

This book collects all of the Tiny Tyrant stories into one volume (Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus & Volume Two: The Lucky Winner) were published by First Second with six stories each).  They were originally collected into four books in French (and translated into English by Alexis Siegel).

First Second had a lot of books by Lewis Trondheim in their earlier publication days but that seems to have gone by the wayside somewhat this decade.

Perhaps it is because his books are hard to classify.  They are basically kids books but they are pretty dark kids books–there’s usually death and blowing up and horrible things happening to people.

Tiny Tyrant is one of the sweeter Trondheim books that I’ve read.  Because even though the Tyrant is a tyrant, he is mostly unsuccessful  in his demands and nobody blows up [let’s hope we are so lucky with our country’s current wanna-be-dictator]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ADAM TORRES-Tiny Desk Concert #577 (November 11, 2016).

Adam Torres has a pretty singular voice.  It is gentle and delicate and slips into a beautiful falsetto with relative ease.

As it turns out his songs are a little too slow for me to fully enjoy, but I do enjoy the melodies and can certainly appreciate his voice.

“High Lonesome” has a great melody–especially on the violin (played beautifully by Aisha Burns)–it’s her melodies at the end of each verse that really makes me want to listen to this song more.  It’s also amazing to watch how effortlessly he switches to the falsetto notes (the high, in high lonesome).  I also really enjoyed the way Dailey Toliver so delicately plays the bass–I actually assumed it was a six string for how gently he is strumming it–and that he can still play some appropriate notes on the Wurlitzer at the same time.

“Outlands” is certainly my favorite of his songs.  Between the scratchy, lonesome violin, the pretty picked guitar notes and the way he instantly switched to falsetto on the second note of each verse–it’s haunting.

“I Came to Sing the Song” is a new song which is even slower than the others.  Once again, his voice is lovely and the melody is very pretty, but this one is just too slow for me to fully enjoy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that percussion (just two congas) is provided by the wonderful Thor Harris (who might have the most Tiny Desk appearances with various bands).

[READ: February 2, 2017] LastMan 6

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

I was under the impression that this was the last volume in the series.  Why?  Well, mostly because at the end of this book, the ad for the previous book calls #5 the penultimate volume.  But this story not only ends with a WHAATTT?  It also ends with a total cliffhanger last page.  According to Wikipedia, there are 8 volumes of the original French, so I can only hope that First Second plans to print the other two (and more?) volumes.

But ending aside, this volume was outstanding.

It opens with a flashback to what Richard did to his partner Duke Diamond to get him in so much trouble back when.  The crux is that Diamond was doing serious drugs and Richard didn’t like it–the friction, and Richard’s reaction, all centers around that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ESME PATTERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #597 (February 10, 2017).

I saw Esmé Patterson at the XPNFest last year.  Her live show was dynamic and fun and she was really charming.  I got to meet her briefly after the show and she was super friendly as well.

This Tiny Desk Concert (in which she has totally shaved off her big wavy hair), is a somewhat quieter, but overall accurate representation of her live show.

I love that she’s playing a big echoing guitar while the rest of the band Alex Koshak (drums); Jeremy Averitt (bass) and Jake Miller (lead guitar) support her perfectly–the lead guitar lines especially.

I have listened to her record a few times and I never considered that she sounds a bit (vocally) like Edie Brickell.  Well on “No River,” the comparison is apt.  Especially given the lyrics.  But the cute squeak in the vocals is quite endearing.

“Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin” is a cool song with a surprising twist on the theme of the lyrics:

When I ask if you love me / And you say that you might

I’ve got your love wrapped around me / So I put up a fight
Cause I wanna believe you

But I’ve heard that
Wantin ain’t gettin
No, wantin ain’t getting.

I like some of the staggered moments in the song too.  And she’s adorably smiley, throughout, even after singing a fairly dark song like that.

“Yours And Mine” has some great flanging echo on her guitar.   It’s a slow sweet song with nice guitar harmonics throughout.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 5

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

Book five opens by returning to the Village of Kings (the home of Adrain and Marianne–where the first two books were set).  Everyone is despondent at the loss of the Velbas. Master Jansen–spurned by Marianne has been inconsolable and all of his students have left him.  Although Elorna has stayed faithful and is ever training (although she thinks that Marianne is a ditz for falling for Richard).

A meeting with the leaders also shows that Richard’s arrival has meant nothing but trouble for them.  They believe that the iguana queen resides in the canyon at the edge of their village (the one that Richard and Marianne crossed).  They believe that a medieval king closed the opening when he sacrificed himself by jumping in.  And he insists that they reinstate the Royal Guardians at once. (more…)

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last4SOUNDTRACK: LONE BELLOW-Tiny Desk Concert #268 (March 4, 2013).

loneI know the Lone Bellow song “You Never Need Nobody,” a song that has great harmonies.  But I don’t really know much about them beyond that song.

For this Tiny Desk Concert, there are three players—two guitarists, Brian Elmquist and Zach Williams, and one mandolin player, Kanene Pipkin.  Williams, is the primary singer, and all three have amazing harmonies.

“You Never Need Nobody” is a bit slower than the recorded version and while it lacks something that I like from the recording, this version makes up for it in other ways.  At the end, they are wonderfully tight when they hit that dramatic pause.

Its possible the singer is sickly as he sniffs quite a bit through the second song, but his voice sounds great.  At the end, she jokes that he is sweaty and he really is.

“Two Sides Of Lonely” is much slower but the chorus is powerful with their harmonies.  You can see how hard the lead singer and the mandolin player are singing–even the blurb says “with Zach Williams singing every word as if it’s the last time he’ll ever get the chance.”  The bridge is just gorgeous.

On “Teach Me To Know” it’s fun to watch their hands strum in synch.  This song is faster with some cool little guitar lines.  There are just wonderful harmonies all the way through.  As the blurb says, “Their voices harmonize with Williams’, sometimes making vocal power chords and at other times supplying delicate textures.

“You Don’t Love Me” jumps right in with big harmonies.  For this song, Williams puts down his guitar–presumably so he can sing even more intensely.

It’s really amazing seeing bands put so much intensity into their music.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 4

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 women are getting sexier with each book (one quite over the top).  No question about the age level of this series now–things are getting much darker and much more intense–keep the kids away.

In the previous book, a bunch of thugs were all ogling a pop star in a magazine, wondering if “they were real or fake.”  In this book we actually meet the pop star (but we don’t learn if they are real or fake).  Her name is Tomie Katana and she was married to Richard for a while before he left.

We also find out (finally) what Richard did to make him flee the city.  It has to do with a previous fight–I suspect we will learn more details about exactly what happened in a later book.

The book opens in Zotis Inc, the company with the biggest pop stars, the biggest sporting events and the biggest everything.  Including The Fight Fist Funeral Cup.  Marianne is talking to one of the executives of the company who sets her up with a car and a hotel for the night.  When Tomie hears her mention Richard, she runs out to try to talk to her. She even runs out into the street–fighting off paparazzi–but to no avail. (more…)

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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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