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Archive for the ‘Supernatural’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #957 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: INDIGO SPARKE-Tiny Desk Concert #950 (February 26, 2020).

I was sure that I had heard of Indigo Sparke before–in some kind of NPR context.  But I can’t find any evidence of that.

The only thing I can figure is that I must have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert when it was first published, because I remembered her telling the story about driving a car (before the second song).

Indigo Sparke is an Australian singer-songwriter.  She sings quietly and plays an electric guitar almost without amplification (aside from occasionally loud drone sounds).  Bob says,

I asked everyone to gather a little closer than usual around my desk for this one.

“Colourblind” starts the set off as she quietly strums and sings.

Up next is “the day i drove the car around the block.”  She introduces the song by telling about

trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road while in Los Angeles, with a huge vehicle and a stick shift.

After that introduction, you might think the song was amusing.  But it is not

It is a tale of defeat and solace:

“Take off all my clothes, kiss me where the bruises are,” …
“Love is the drug, and you are in my blood now.”

Sparke sings a little too slowly for my liking–the kind of stretched out vocals that make it hard for me to follow the thread of the song (or maybe that you need a few listens to fully appreciate).

Before the final song, she invites her partner, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief up to play guitar with her.  She tells us that the song is so new it has no title–if you think of one while she’s playing it, let Bob know.  It has since been named “Burn.”

Lenker’s addition of chords (and lovely harmonics) add a nice extra layer to the song.

[READ: March 21, 2020] Paradox Girl: First Cycle

Who doesn’t love a story that begins: “Do you know what happens when you violate causality?”

Paradox Girl is a time-traveler who has changed her past so many times she doesn’t know what he truth is.  She also lives with about a hundred copies of herself.

Her partner in crime-fighting is Axiom Man.

This book had so much that I love in a superhero story–strong female characters, wild humor and all kinds of time-travel paradoxes.  It even had fantastic artwork from Yishan Li–I love the light purple lines that indicate some time travel magic.

But I guess I learned that this is something of a one-note premise.  Which means that most of the stories are variants on the one idea that she can appear anywhere at anytime and that her other selves will be there as well.

Often this works pretty well, but I guess reading six comics in a row gets a bit samey. (more…)

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516ZKjM2CqL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) SOUNDTRACK: ELISAPIE-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 20, 2020).

downloadElisapie (I have no idea how to pronounce that) is a First Nations singer from Salluit, on the Northern tip of Quebec.

She sings in Inuktitut (as well as in English and French).  And her voice is absolutely intense.

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

her life as an adopted child and of meeting her biological mother. Now, as a mother herself, she sings about what it must have meant to her own mother to give up her child.

Elisapie left her birth-village, Salluit, as a teenager and headed to Montreal, leaving her community and her sick mom. The songs she sings, here all come from her album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl and deal with the consequences of her leaving.

These songs are definitely rock, but with a different overall sound.  Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone is fantastic–creating deep low rumbles and otherworldly squawks.

“Arnaq” opens with some chugging guitar riffs (I can’t tell if the guitar is acoustic or electric) from Joe Grass and after a verse or so, some great noisy electric guitars from Josh Toal, who punctuates the song with little solos.  There’s no bass guitar because the bass saxophone covers all of the low ends.

The song, even though it is in Inuktitut is rally catchy with a chorus of “ahhhhhh, I, yi, I” (or something).

The middle section is full of great noises as both guitars and the sax all play some wild solos.

All of this is held together by “the tasteful drumming of Evan Tighe.”

She says the second song, “Una” is the most painful yet the most freeing song.  It is  written to her biological mother.  In Inuktitut the word for mother means “our little bag” because they carried us.

It opens with slow staccato guitar chords and a near a capella vocal before the quiet electric guitar from Josh Toal joins in.  The spareness of the beginning of this song is a great counterpoint to the end of the song when everyone joins in–vocals, guitars, sax and some complex drumming.

Before the final song, she looks around and smiles and says Lizzo was here!  My daughter is very excited.

The final song “Darkness Bring The Light” opens with some great weird sounds from everyone.  Tighe makes scraping metallic sounds as he slides his drum sticks around the cymbals.  Toal plays a synth intro as Grass bows his guitar and Sharp makes waves of gentle sounds to underpin the melody

This one is in English.  She sings a melody that rides over the sounds.  After 2 minutes the drums kick in and after a run through of the chorus, the guitarists join in

Bob Boilen concludes

This is an extraordinary Tiny Desk from an artist with something meaningful to say.

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

[READ: March 10, 2020] Gunnerkrigg Court 4 [32-41]

I really enjoyed the first three books of this series and then promptly forgot about it.  I happened to see this book at the library and was excited to see that I hadn’t read it.  Can it really have been three years since I last read about these characters?

Being away for so long made some of this a little confusing.  I will have to read the whole story again some time.

Chapter 32 shows Antimony returning from the forest and there is a warm welcome with Renard. But Katarina’s welcome is cool–“you kinda make it hard to be your friend.” Antimony tries very hard to make Kat like her again…too hard.  She creates scary situations in which she can “save” Kat,  It doesn’t exactly work, although Kat isn’t really mad anymore, just annoyed.  But then a gigantic creepy monster thing comes out of the water.  Kat is impressed by Annie’s conjuring until Annie says she didn’t do it.  They run out.

Only to learn that this is Lindsey–the creature who helped design most of everything at the court–a giant crablike creature.

All this time Kat has been working on the idea of growing a robot.  Well, not exactly, but kind of.  She imagines using a muscular frame to build a robot body around.  Or something.  She is able to use the smarts of one of the existing robots to give her a hand.  The code they provide is actually a small white cube with no writing on it.  Amazingly Kat is able to read parts of it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LESLIE ODOM, JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #908 (December 2, 2019).

I knew I had heard of Leslie Odom Jr. but I couldn’t remember from what.  Apparently I have heard of him from….everything.

A Tony- and Grammy-winning star, Odom has added a slew of achievements to his portfolio since 2016, when he left his role playing Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton. He’s continued his work in television and film, written a book and released jazz and Christmas albums. He co-wrote most of the songs on his latest project, Mr; out earlier this month, it’s his first album of original material.

Dang.

His singing voice is fantastic and these songs that he wrote are really wonderful.

“Cold” is a hopeful ballad with a beautiful melody and a hint of contemporary musical theater.  It opens with a lovely acoustic guitar from Jeremy Ting and piano from Tommy King.  Odom’s voice is powerful and strong and he hits some nice falsetto notes.  This is all accented by rim shots and cymbal taps from Garrison “G-Beats” Brown.

His backing vocalists, Christine Noel Smit, Nicolette Robinson (Odom’s wife) and Astyn Turr add some nice calla and response and then harmony voices. There’s a pretty acoustic guitar solo as well.

And all the while Odom’s voice and lyrics are fantastic.

When it’s finished he says, “you are the second group of people to hear that song.”

Then he

recalled advice he’d received from a friend: “You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City,” Odom said, before quipping, “I feel so blessed to be a part of … Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons.”

Up next is “Foggy,” which he says is the most personal song on the album.  It’s much more spare, a love song filled with the regret of failed good intentions.  It’s almost entirely just he and the piano.  Although half way through some xylophone notes add a cool echoing sound.  As the song nears its end, Astyn Turr sings along with him.

Introducing the final song, “Hummingbird,” he says “This song is admittedly… I think it’s a bop, but it’s an odd little bop.  But it has been tested by my 2 year old and it is her favorite song on the album.  For this song Tommy King and Theron “Neff-U” Feemster switch places so “Neff-U” (who worked with him to make the record) is now playing piano.

The song features some wonderful violin from Andrew Joslyn.  It’s a fun boppy song and I love that everyone raucously sings the “you’re my hummingbird” line.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this set, but Odom has a fantastic voice and his songs are really very beautiful.

[READ: August 2019] Gods Without Men

I had read a review of this book by Douglas Coupland on two occasions and each time it made me want to read the book.  So I decided to read the book.  And what a book.

Coupland had warned, in a sense, that there were UFOs and aliens–but not to be put off by them.  And he’s right.  The book centers around aliens and such, but there are no “little green men.”

Rather, the book looks more at a location and the spiritual power it has had on people throughout history.

The book bounces back and forth between various eras and the present.  In most summaries of the book, the present takes prominence–and it is the most often visited timeline in the book.  But at times I found the story in the present to be less interesting than those in the past.

The book begin in 1947 with a man named Schmidt.  Schmidt drove out to the Pinnacles “three column of rock that shot up like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky.”  He used his diving rods and sensed the power here.  He paid $800 to a woman who owned the property and then settled in.  Schmidt built an underground structure to live in.  He bought an Airstream trailer and set it up as a diner.  Then he put in an airstrip and a fuel tank.  Soon enough pilots were stopping in for fuel as they sailed across the desert.  Schmidt is an interesting character (with a reprehensible past).  He also, every night, lit up the lights on top of his property that said WELCOME.

One night a ship descended from the sky. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN SCALES FOURCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #942 (February 7, 2020).

I assumed that by this name, that this band would be contemporary classical.  I didn’t really consider that they would be jazzy (or that there would be three of them).  I certainly didn’t expect to hear steel drums!

Here’s a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It’s true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales’ virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

The first song “Focus Poem” opens with spectacular bass from E’Lon JD and complicated drums from Maison Guidry.  Then the huge surprise comes when Scales plays the steel pan drums.

Scales’ musical hero, Béla Fleck, happened to be performing in the Washington, D.C. area on the same day as this performance, with just enough time to stop in for one song,”Focus Poem.” It’s a cut Fleck originally played banjo on for the band’s 2018 album Pillar. While the tune is a regular on the trio’s setlist, this performance marks the first time they’ve played it live with Fleck. Scales later revealed that it was a little risky to open with such a technically complicated piece, but the execution was still superb.

Fleck is, of course, fantastic too and he plays a fantastic solo at the end.

So it’s like jazz but with banjo and steel pans.

I assumed that the band was fairly new but

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra has been performing for 13 years, now, redefining the steelpans as a signature jazz instrument. The first iteration of the band was a trio-plus-guitar, hence the “four” in the name. But when drummer Maison Guidry and bassist E’Lon JD joined Scales later, it was clear the trio’s sound was complete. JD grounds the music with powerful bass lines, combined with guitar-like melodic and harmonic embellishments.

The other two songs in this set are also from Pillar. While it’s not his most recent album, Scales calls it his most potent work to date, a quintessential representation of his music.

Introducing “We Came Through The Storm,” he says he’s always wanted to compose for cinema, so for this song he pretended he was writing music for a movie.  There’s a repeating four-beat rhythm (with complex drumming on top, of course) and great lead steel pans and wild bass.

With its heavy arrangement, is one of their most popular tunes, partly because of the dazzling drum riffs Guidry nails with playful proficiency.

The final song they play is “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child” is a lullaby to your inner child.  We have an outer shell he calls the Fake Buddha which says “we can handle this, I’m cool.”  Meanwhile, the inner child is exposed, full of anxiety and depression.  He considers this song to be a “Lullaby to the inner spirit.”  It’s a quieter song with high notes on the bass and a lot of cymbals.

It’s a great quiet ending to a wild set.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 3

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book two our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were unable to light the second beacon.  It turns out they have to be lit in a certain order and so they are off to Moon Yatta and the red beacon.

The opening of book 3 is a flashback to what happened to Jax when the escape pod crashed at the beginning of book two.  He was rescued by the Salassi Devoti and one of them put its spirit inside of Jax.  They never thought it would be possible to put a spirit in an android but Uncle Jep had left a space inside of Jax–a space that is perfect for this creature to infuse Jax with life.  Noe Jax is more than he was before.

An Tzu is very excited to go to Moon Yatta because it is the land of the free where they elect their leaders, where hopes and dreams come true.   The citizens hate to break it to him but things are not perfect there–the mimic is there, too.

When they arrive the beautiful lush moon (from An Tzu’s postcard) is now desert wasteland.  It turns out that Stan Moon bought all of the crops.  All water has been diverted to irrigate the Stan Moon fields. Stan Moon also bought the Mon Domani lands which is why Sao Sablo is a slum and why An Tzu’s life has been miserable.

The Red Beacon is in the center of Moon Yatta under a maze of tubes and tunnels.  The beacon is powering everything on the moon. How will they ever get to the beacon through the maze?  An Tzu says an old joke: “The best way to get there is to not start from here.”  Nobody gets it.

When they land on the moon, Oona is a celebrity–the beacon lighter–and they are preparing to introduce them to the Head Citizen.

Felizia is the Head Citizen and she is charming and delightful.  She has a feast for them which makes An Tzu pretty excited.  But she admits that the feast would be even more special if the shapeshifters were allowed to do their transforming dances.  The transforming dances are now illegal–they must wear collars that prevent them from changing shape.  Those who refuse are sent to the ruby desert.

When Oona says she wants to light the red beacon Felizia says, its an election season, they cant go changing things right now.

Felizia’s second in command Brightley whispers that Oona should talk to Eldridge and Derrick Stoak, heads of Nanotex Corporation–they have a bit more sway with the beacons.

The next morning the first order of businesses is getting An Tzu’s disappearing disease looked at.  They find the best doctor in the city and she insists on a large payment before even looking at him.  Moon Yatta is not the land of dreams that An Tzu imagined.

Oona has a similar problem with Derrick Stoak.  He wants to know what she will do for him if he lets her light the beacon–he is a businessman not an idealist.  What he wants most is for Jax A,boy to return to the Starball field–playing for Stoak’s Leaterheads team, of course.  Oon says she will ask Jax but she doesn’t think he’ll agree (and hopes he doesn’t).

An Tzu has started having vision. He comes out of one and believes that Stan Moon is the mimic.

Even Derrick Stoak is concerned is about Stan Moon, but his brother Eldridge thinks that Stan Moon is a great fit for Nanotex.

In order to assist Oona, Jax agrees to play one special Starball game.  But when Jax asks about the beacon, Derrick says too bad.  So Jax refuses to play but Derrick seems to know how to override and control Jax.  Dax still has that spirit in him but Derrick believes his doctors can reset Jax to his original Starball playing self.

Meanwhile, Oona, An Tzu an Ram Sam Sam are in the red maze looking for a way to the beacon and also looking for Etta Zelle, a Yattan Sand Master and shapeshifter.  While they are looking around they meet some street urchins. The urchins recognize Oona as the person who lit the beacons.  Thet tell her that they are rebels although they are all wearing the form-lock collars to prevent them from shapeshifting.

When they try to blast through the maze, they are arrested and sent out to the dessert.  Although it turns out Brightley had them sent to the desert rather than prison so that they could meet Zelle.  Oona confesses to a man there that she needs to find Zelle.  She also weeps a bit that she was in the red maze and couldn’t even summon the fire needed to light the beacon.  The stranger says “perhaps you were too busy–carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”  Then the man transforms into Etta Zelle.

Etta Zelle is great, comforting and instructive.  She also confirms that Stan Moon is the Mimic, but even if they kill Stan Moon, the mimic will live on.

Then Etta Zelle shows Oona how to make a portal (it’s pretty amazing).  Oona can’t actually control the portal yet–to rather amusing results.

Back at Nanotex headquarters, the board are talking about the situation on Moon Yatta and Eldridge reveals that they are basically going to be rigging the election in favor of Stan Moon.  The leaders are outraged and don’t want to undermine Yattan democracy.  Mr Tarney says he quits, but as he does so, Stan shapeshifts into a fearsome creature to frighten Mr Tarney into going along with them.   The only one having any misgivings now is Derrick, but he keeps his mouth shut.

Part of the propaganda for Stan Moon comes in the form of Peet Bowl a fat , sweating outraged TV person–this character is so clearly any one of a number of Fox news anchors–hysterical, unhinged and strangely persuasive.    He shouts things like

Our very way of life, our own Yattan way is under siege.

If only he said they would make Yatta great again.

Meanwhile the police track Oona and her crew to he desert  They storm in with the intent on grabbing them all but Etta Zelle and Oona make portals and everyone escapes except Zelle.

Although Derrick is upset about what happened, he still wants to ensure that Jax Amboy is back on board with him.  Soon we see Jax in a commercial urging criminals and rebels to quit and to turn in the beacon lighter.  But before Oona and An Tzu can get too upset, the person who actually reprogrammed Jax finds An Tzu and says that he an be deprogrammed if he says “Do it for Laaniel.”   And so, during the important Starball game, when Jax collapses, An Tzu is able to shout those magic words to him.

As the book comes to an end we see that Stan Moon and Eldridge have created an army of Jax Amboy look-alikes.

When Stan Moon walks away, Derrick asks Eldridge to try out the cryotech pod.  Which he closes up and sends off to the Y-26 System.

He then apologizes to Jax Amboy and sets a bomb amid all the fake Jaxes.

Oona, An Tzu, JAx and Ram Sam Sam are reunited, but before they celebration the election results are in and Stan Moon has won

And this surely has to do with the 2016 election

An Tzu looks at the screen on Stan Moon talking and shouts “Liar! It’s the Mimic!  They elected the Mimic!”  And Oona says “Most wont believe it. Some won’t even care.”

The security forces close in on Oona and her group but she uses some advice that An Tzu gave her earlier to get to the beacon.

The book end with An Tzu’s eyes glowing in a strange way and when they they ask him what he sees, he says Home!

Continued in the next book!

The illustration style continues to be excellent and very trippy–soft and delicate with fine lines and gentle coloring. It looks very anime and yet it’s not.  It’s hard to know which artist’s style dominates.  I feel like Boya Sun, but they all have a similar aesthetic.  I really like the character design as well.  I found it very refreshing that none of the characters look like superheroes (well except for Jax the athlete).  Oona is a short girl who has wide hips and thighs and An Tzu is a chubby boy.  Even the other creatures are all interesting and uniquely designed.

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SOUNDTRACK: ANOTHER SKY-Tiny Desk Concert #941 (February 5, 2020).

I have watched this video many times because I love everything about this band.  I love the unexpectedly intricate guitar, the adventurous bass and complex rhythms, and I love singer Catrin Vincent’s voice.

Drummer Max Doohan open “Brave Face” with really fast hi-hats.  Some very high bass notes (from Naomi Le Dune) and a smooth, slinky guitar (Jack Gilbert) makes the melody as Katrin sings in her unique, deep and clearly accented voice.

After a verse or so, Katrin plays a piano chord while the guitar opens a clean catchy melody.  The  song stops musically for a moment before it kicks back in with some rocking guitars and fast drums.  Despite the rhythmic changes, all the while her vocal style remains unchanged–a great contrast.

There’s so much dynamism in this song.  It builds and builds to a dramatic ending.

There’s intensity and clear intention to the music of Another Sky. I knew that from having seen this London band perform at SXSW. But in the confines of an office, hearing Catrin Vincent’s unique voice, raw and un-amplified, brought it to another level. They came to NPR back in December to perform, opening their Tiny Desk set with a new song, released just this week. “Brave Face” is a window into the uncompromising sound and message of Another Sky, as Catrin sings in her impassioned voice:

“You must put yourself first
believe you will be loved
only you can demand all you deserve
You put on your brave face, now girl.”

This isn’t a message that is easy to punctuate with music, but matching message with music is the strength of Another Sky. You can hear it in the way Jack Gilbert weaves his guitar lines around the haunting vocals, the way the rhythm section sets up a tension with the melody.

“Avalanche” “another song that deals with toxic masculinity, there’s such ferocity, such commitment to the message.”   It opens with guitar harmonics and Katrin singing along on a slow piano melody.  A complex bass line adds some lower notes to the song which teases quiet moments before getting loud again with a nifty guitar solo.  The song once again gets huge before the music cuts out for just some piano and voice.

Before the final song,

Catrin brought some levity in the form of thanks. “I used to work in an infamous thrift shop in London,” she said, “that paid me to sit and watch NPR Tiny Desks on loop, and I used to think, ‘Oh we’ll never get here,’ and we did, so thank you.”

“All Ends” opens with a quiet introduction and more great guitar work.  Once again I love the bass work–chords played at the high end of the neck, along with ringing guitars and Katrin’s voice.

This band is so interesting, I can’t wait to hear more from them.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 2

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book one our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were able to light the first beacon.  Lighting the beacon made it rain on Mon Domani for the first time in years.

This book opens with a flashback.  In book one we knew of Oona’s sister, and how she fled just before it was her time to light the beacons.  By the end of the book we saw that she was actively trying to prevent Oona from lighting the beacon.

Master Elon pulls aside a young Jessa Lee and tells her about the Mimic–he is not a legend, he is real and a real threat.  He tells her that the Cobalt Prince wants to destroy the Mimic and only a great sand dancer (and Jessa is the best) can defeat the Mimic.  But just before the lighting is to commence, Elon tells her the true consequence of lighting the beacons (which we don’t hear). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SiR-Tiny Desk Concert #940 (February 3, 2020).

I had never heard of SiR, the R&B singer from Inglewood, CA.  That’s not surprising since I don’t listen to R&B.

But as I often say I’m always surprised to read that someone is very successful and yet I have never heard of them.

Since signing to hip-hop juggernaut Top Dawg Entertainment in 2017, Sir Darryl Farris has been the most consistent, most reliable player on the roster outside of its original four.  His output has further solidified the label’s stake in spaces outside of just rap music.

He sings four songs, all ballads.  His voice is somewhere between speaking and singing with an interesting raspy quality.

The songs come from his latest LP, Chasing Summer.

Themes of regret loom throughout the album and he’s never shied away from writing about personal flaws. His depiction of misdirected desires and heartbreak on “John Redcorn” and “The Recipe” reveal a cruel honesty that couples grapple with at times.

“The Recipe” has some really nice backing vocals from Davion Farris, Jacquelyn Farris and Zyah Belle.

“New Sky” has a pretty piano melody from Ledaris “L.J.” Jones with some nice fat bass from Samuel Davis.   I quite like like the vocals on the chorus.

When he introduces the band he reveals that Davion Farris is his older brother and Jacquelyn Farris is his mom.

The set was also a family affair with his mother and older brother offering support as two of the three background vocalists. We get a glimpse of his upbringing in the gospel choir once those harmonies open up.

The set proves to be unexpectedly emotional

About halfway through the performance, SiR revealed that he’d lost his infant godson a few days prior and dedicated the performance to him. “We’re doing this for him. I didn’t want to come… It took a lot for me to be here today …but we’re gonna get through this.”

He plays the spare “Wires in the Way.”  It’s just his voice with some quiet jazzy guitar from Terrall Whitehead.  Midway through some lovely jazzy piano is added.  Throughout, you can see how emotional SiR is while singing the song and then he needs a moment at the end before they start the last song.

Woah.

He is able to bring the happiness back for the last song.  He says “It’s my favorite song off the album.  Hope you like this last one.”

“John Redcorn” feels like a culmination of the other songs, with everyone playing or singing to make this song very full.  I especially like the way Roger “Jooseondrums” Benford makes the cymbals sound like they are filling up the room.

Many Tiny Desk Concerts are emotional and you;d have to be stone cold not to be moved by this one.

[READ: February 20, 2020] Princeless: Raven Book 3

Book Two ended with a cliffhanger–would Raven be able to save Ximena?  She needs to take Ximena for medical care, but she knows that she can’t go anywhere on the island, since her brothers rule everything there.

Katie looks at the maps that Ximena has been making and sees that there’s an island not too far off.  It’s a spa for people who are really injured.  They set sail immediately and Katie is put in charge while Raven stays with Ximena.  Raven reveals that she is in love with Ximena (which most of the crew guessed anyway).

Raven is told that Ximena needs to hear her voice if she is to recover and so Raven tells the story of how her mother and father met.  It’s a pretty wonderful story and is beautifully drawn by Sorah Suhng.

All this time, Sunshine has been listening at the door.  It turns out she’s quite jealous of Ximena because she has a major thing for Raven.  So when Raven asks Sunshine to tell Ximena a story, Sunshine is really torn.  But she knows how important it is so she tells the story of how her parents met–that a human and an elf could conceive.  It’s a pretty great story drawn in a very different style by Jason Strutz. (more…)

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