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Archive for the ‘Smarty Pants’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALICE RUSSELL-Tiny Desk Concert #288 (July 15, 2013).

I read the name Alice Russell and pictured some kind of folk artist.  Boy, was I surprised to see a woman with  bleached blonde hair, a leather jacket and a funny t-shirt.  And then her band started playing low groovy soulful music.

Turns out:

Russell is a classic soul-infused singer — close your eyes and it’s easy to hear a Southern drawl, but truth be told, she’s a Brit. American-style R&B from Britain has a long history dating back to the 1960s with Dusty Springfield and on up through 21st-century artists like Adele. As for Alice Russell, she’s been making great soul music for 10 years, and her arrangements on To Dust often include a dose of electronics.

I didn’t love her voice when the first song “To Dust” started.  But as soon as the chorus kicked in I was hooked–wow, what a great voice she has and with the full band playing behind her it sounded amazing (the sampled backing singers was a bit flat, but otherwise OK).  And by the second chorus, man she is belting out the song—it’s great.  The Adele comparisons are spot on.

Then she hit Bob’s gong at the end of the song and told us that it was an ode to the taxman.

“For a While” is a great big soul song.  The drummer gets some great sounds out of that one drum he has.  And they keys sound great too.  I love the middle part where there’s some seriously long pauses in between beats–they are all wonderfully in sync.  At the end of the song she yells “I didn’t gong!” and then makes a peculiar hand gesture about a turtle.

“Heartbreaker” has such a classic-sounding riff it’s hard to believe it’s a new song.  I like it a lot (although I don’t care for the chanted “when it falls, when it breaks” by the guys).

I have to agree with this blurb about her:

To Dust is Russell’s fifth album, but the hiatus that followed 2008’s Pot of Gold may be the reason too many people don’t yet know what she’s doing. This stuff is as powerful as the work of any American singer making soul music in the 21st century. If you haven’t heard of her yet, think of this as a well-overdue introduction.

[READ: May 15, 2016] I Kill the Mockingbird

I bought this book from the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA.  I don’t buy too many books these days but I saw this one in the PA authors section (and it was 20% off) and the title sounded intriguing.  So I grabbed it.

And I’m I glad I did. This book was outstanding.  I loved it from the first chapter and was thrilled that the ending was also very satisfying–not easy given the way the story was heading for a conclusion that could have gone in many different directions.

So what’s this about?  Well, there are three kids, Lucy Elena and Michael.  They are at the heart of the story.  I loved loved loved that these three were great friends who’d known each other forever.  And they were all big big big readers. Such an awesome start to a story. (more…)

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1997SOUNDTRACK:LOS HACHEROS-Tiny Desk Concert #545 (July 5, 2016).

hacherosLos Hacheros play “Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.”

This music swings and bounces and with such simple instrumentation: an upright bass and a guitar.  With the main melodies constructed by the trombone and vocal (the trombonist doubles on violin).  But the rest of the band is there for percussion–cowbells, shakers and the conga.

The band plays three songs all sung in Spanish.  It’s fun to watch them get into the groove and begin to sway in unison to the music.

“Baila Con Los Hacheros” features a violin solo that is pretty intense “Papote’s Guajira” features an acoustic guitar solo that is complex and fun to watch. It also has a lengthy flute solo (the violinist also plays the flute!). “Bambulaye” features NPR’s own Felix Contreras on congas–he gets a solo–apparently he has been playing in bands for years.  What a nice surprise.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998

This is the second to last book of collected strips from Schulz.  Rerun features quite prominently and Linus has faded somewhat.  Snoopy is no longer playing characters (except for the soldier..always soldiers) and Charlie is still pining for things he won’t get.

1997 opens with Charlie showing Linus his autographed Joe Shlabotnik baseball.  But Linus thinks it’s a forgery.  Cue a week of strips about an autograph forger (who tries to hire Charlie as his accomplice).  I love that Schulz went on strange little tangents like this, but I always feel like he doesn’t follow through with these funny ideas. The whole premise of this just ends never to be heard from again.

And then in a surprise to me, Snoopy starts acting like a Revolutionary War patriot standing guard at Valley Forge.  He seems to have given up on WWI and gone back in time to a far less dramatic role–he mostly just stands around in the cold.  Strips about that occur from time to tome with him talking to General Washington.  The last one is in December 1998 where he realizes he is only guarding snow. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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secret-2SOUNDTRACK: SANDRO PERRI-Spaced Out EP [CST101] (2013).

cst101cover_258x242Sandro Perri, plays jazzy music and sings in a gentle falsetto. I really enjoyed his album Impossible Spaces a lot.  This 10″ EP is composed  of 3 remixes from that album.  I happen to really dislike remixes that basically take one aspect of a song, add drums to it and repeat for 5 minutes.  Most dance remixes are pretty inane.  These are a step above that.

The three tracks are Love & Light (Larry Gus – Panamix), Wolfman (Le Révélateur – Sky Mix), and How Will I? (Imugem Orihasam – Outlook Mix).

The original of Love and Life is a pretty, jazzy number with some great sounding drums and synth notes.

The remix opens with some really fast clicking and some cool wild bass synth.  Then Perri’s voice is manipulated into a kind of repeating note.  Once the song starts properly there’s a cool drums beat and repeats of Perri singing “hey” along with his voice played low in the mix.  And that’s Brett much it.  It’s simple but insanely catchy/dancey.  The song pauses in the middle and then resumes with new vocal snippets The Constellation site says the remix “employs over 500 samples extracted from the song’s stems. The result is an intricate, dense, exuberantly satisfying groove-based track that chops and channels the woozy rhythmic complexity and mellifluous vocal of the original.”

“Wolfman” is a ten minute track that I love–it has so many components and different styles. But this remix strips away pretty much all of it.  It is basically 5 and a half minutes of drums with some wavering synth lines.  About 3 minutes in some ooh oohs from the original track come in, but it’s so removed from the track that I almost wonder why bother.  Well, Constellation is there to tell us: Roger Tellier-Craig (Fly Pan Am, Pas Chic Chic), reworks “Wolfman” as a beautifully building swarm of layered loops and long delays – an homage of sorts to Perri’s own Polmo Polpo sound palette.”  And if that’s what you are expecting, he does it well.

I also love the original of “How Will I.”  This version is very strange.  The music is stripped almost all away with just some occasional sprinkling of piano and rumblings of low notes in the background.  There are additions of synths and percussion but otherwise it is largely a stripped down song.  What I loved about the original was the music—the flutes and everything–and it’s all gone.  I do love at 7 minutes when the bass rumbles through the song, but otherwise its pretty samey.  Constellation tells us: “Japanese producer Imugem Orihasam (Fragil) extrapolates a sweet and loose abstract-House vibe from the original, bringing the highly detailed swing of the song’s live drum tracks to the fore, allowing Perri’s vocal to unfurl against a minimal, skittering, plunderphonic arrangement.”

So, this is not a release I would play very much.

[READ: October 3, 2016] Secret Coders: Paths and Portals

Secret Coders ended with a  pretty big cliffhanger.

Hopper and Eni are on to something big at their school, Stately Academy.  They have just discovered a robot which (through their own programming) has opened up a portal to a secret underground lab. But it is the lab of Mr Bee.  Oh, and that bully Josh has decided he wants to help them.  Hopper says no way, but Josh doesn’t give up.  However, he’s kind of a coward and a little dumb and Hopper is really quite mean to him back.

Eventually they all start working together–Josh has mad typing skills.  And the beginning of the book shows the trio learning to write a program for the Robot Turtle to run. Coding isn’t a terribly exciting thing to watch, but Yang and Holmes do it in a cool way that makes it rather enjoyable.  Even (or maybe especially) when the kids screw up.

But they do succeed.  Which leads to an even more secret room with dozens of robot turtles off all sizes  And that’s when Mr Bee reveals a bit about himself and Stately Academy. (more…)

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secretSOUNDTRACK: CLUES-Endless Forever 7″ [CST064] (2009).

  cluesClues was a band who played rock songs that fused a lot of different styles–often within one song.  They released one album which was fantastic and then basically went on hiatus (that was six years ago).  This 7″ was a tour artifact that Constellation has made available.

It has two songs–a band-made remix of one song from the album and a demo of another album track..

“Ledmonton (Endless Forever Version)” is an unusual but fun song with lots of different sections.  All of them sound unrelated to each other and yet each part is quite catchy and it works wonderfully as a whole.  This remix doesn’t change the song all that much.  It makes it a little softer and fuzzier.  “You Have My Eyes Now (Demonstration Version)” feels like a demo compared to the final version, but it’s really full sounding–just not as full as the album.

This release is more for completists of the band or, since they put out one album and disbanded, any fan of their recorded output might just enjoy this.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Secret Coders

Beloved artist/author Gene Luen Yang came back in 2015 with a new series called Secret Coders.

There is a kind of introductory section that implies the whole story is a lot more meta than it might at first seem–but it is not resolved yet so it’s hard to be sure of that.

The story opens on middle-schooler Hopper.  She is very unhappy to have moved to this new town and a new school.  In addition to missing everyone back home, the sh cool is decidedly weirdo.  There are birds with four eyes, the groundskeeper’s doors are locked and the custodian Mr Bee is really mean.   Plus the whole place looks haunted and there are huge numbers painted all over the buildings (but not in any actual order).

Hopper is pretty abrasive. In fact I’d say she’s downright unlikable–I find her rather offputting, myself.  Of course, she’s also unhappy and the first people that she meets make fun of her (and throw pudding at her), so she is quite snippy with people.  But she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, which is cool.  When she learns who threw the pudding at her, she fights back–not realizing that the guy is a huge basketball player.  But he doesn’t fight her.  Rather, he chooses to walk away. (more…)

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mixeduop[LISTENED TO: December 2015] From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler 

I was sure that I had read this book.  I have a copy of it and I knew the premise, but clearly, after listening to this audio book (at Sarah’s suggestion) I learned that I had not.  And the book was awesome.  All four of us enjoyed it a lot.

The story was great, but it may have had to do with Jill Clayburgh’s reading.  I don’t really know anything about her and at first I wasn’t convinced that two kids from suburban Connecticut would have such strong New York accents, but they really worked.  Especially when the kids started fighting and she had subtle distinctions between Claudia and Jaime.

Of course, the book itself is masterful.  But there’s some really unusual choices in the book, which made me wonder how good it would be.  It begins with a letter from Mrs Frankweiler to her lawyer, Saxonberg, (a rip-roaring intro to a kids book, eh?).  This introductory device sets up the story in which Mrs Frankweiler tells the story of Claudia and Kincaid’s adventures in New York City.  And it works wonderfully. (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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