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Archive for the ‘Superstitions’ Category

[LISTENED TO: July 2017] The People of Sparks

After finishing up The City of Ember this summer, with that promising cliffhanger-ish ending, I was pretty excited to listen to book two.

Holy cow did I hate this book (until the end).  I blame the combination of DuPrau’s writing and Wendy Dillon’s excellent vocal work.  Because as soon as the book started, the sorta main character Torren quickly became the single most irritating character in fiction.  He is bratty.  He is incredibly whiny.  He is a really mean.  And he is unchecked by adults.  Perhaps we are supposed to feel sorry for him, but he is so incredibly unlikable and does such horrible things that I don’t see how one could.

I imagined that this book would pick up where Ember left off–Mrs Murdo finding the note and rallying the city together to come and meet Lina and Doon in the new place.  I imagined a lengthy first part where the characters try to convince the mayor and gather their stuff and eventually work their way out.

But no.  The book begins in the city of Sparks.  Horrible brat child Torren is sitting on a windmill (not sure why they have these windmills if they don’t harness the energy) and sees people marching across the empty land.

Soon enough Lina and Doon are introducing the 400+ Emberites to the 300+ people of Sparks.  The leaders of Sparks: Mary, Ben and Wilmer meet to decide what to do with this huge influx of people. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: July 2016, July 2017] The City of Ember

I enjoyed this book when we listened to it the first time and I enjoyed the graphic novel as well.

But I couldn’t remember enough about the audio book to post about it so I listened to it again.  And what was so interesting this time was how much it sounded like an attack on our current political situation:

A greedy pig in charge of a country; sycophants as his cronies; keeping as much as possible for themselves and allowing the richer to get richer while the country falls apart; shutting down truth; imprisoning dissenters and just to top it off, the mayor is a large man with very small hands (seriously).  The only real difference is that the mayor speaks eloquently and has a big vocabulary.

I absolutely loved the reading by Wendy Dillon.  She has quite distinctive voices for the main characters and some of the secondary characters have wonderful details about them that keeps them individual–the mayor wheezes, another character smacks his lips together, Clary speaks slowly and deliberately almost with a stutter.  It’s wonderful.  And the sound effects, while not necessary, are a nice addition.  Although they are fairly infrequent and can be surprising if you forget about them.

So what’s the story about? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PENGUIN CAFE-Tiny Desk Concert #627 (June 16, 2017).

I recently found out about Penguin Cafe from a piece on All Songs Considered.  I learned that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was responsible for some cool/unusual classical/pop recordings back in he 1970s and 1980s.  And it’s likely that if you listened to NPR back then, you heard some of their music.:

The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early ’70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world “where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room.” Eerily accurate.

But he also imagined a place, the Penguin Cafe, where folks could gather, for pleasure, cheer and music. He wanted to hear what that music would sound like, and so created the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I was always a huge fan of that original music; listeners of NPR may have heard it often in-between news stories during the many years I directed All Things Considered.

But Penguin Cafe Orchestra is no more.

While Simon Jeffes died in 1997, his son Arthur has been creating new music infused with his father’s original inspiration. He calls his group, simply, Penguin Cafe. You can hear Brazilian sounds in the rhythms, classical and minimalism in the strings, Asia in its harmonium, African sounds in the kalimbas. But honestly, it’s none of these; it’s a universal dream state.

If you’re looking to explore further be sure the listen to Penguin Cafe’s recent album The Imperfect Sea, which nods to Kraftwerk, Simian Mobile Disco and Franz Schubert. It’s none of these.

The band has a lot of strings: Oli Langford (violin) Clementine Brown (violin) Vincent Greene (viola) Andy Waterworth (double bass).  There’s also a ukulele (Des Murphy) which you can’t hear too often, but it is notable on the final song.

“Wheels Within Wheels” is cover of a song by Simian Mobile Disco.  It is nearly five minutes long with slow, building strings and a simple melody that seems to be never ending as it remains the same while the backing chords change.  In addition to the strings, there’s a guy (Neil Codling) playing a dulcitone on top of the real piano (he’s holding his hand up by the end).  And the percussionist (Darren Berry) seems to have a wooden plank to play on.  He uses mallets on the wood to get quite a deep sound.  It’s a really fun piece.

“Protection” has a catchy piano motif (played by Arthur with outstretched arm on the dulcitone) in 7/8 time.  But everyone else plays in 4/4, so the motif changes every time.  After a few bars, it switches to the real piano and the strings are really lovely while that’s going on.  The ducitone player has switched to a large ukulele and the percussion consists of drums sticks on the piece of wood–fast clicking sounds.

“Ricercar” is an old renaissance Italian term.  At the beginning of a fugue you embed a theme that is expounded on later.  This song opens the album and few themes come back later in the album.  Jeffes plays a quiet melody on the dulcitone.  About half way through the song he opens the piano and seems to be dampening the strings with his hand while playing the notes.  The percussion includes a shaker and the mallets on the wood once again.  It’s upbeat and catchy and a lot of fun.

This is a really enjoyable show–classical music for people who like to have fun as well.  As far as the original band goes, if you’ve heard anything by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, it’s probably this piece: “Music for a Found Harmonium.”

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper

I have really enjoyed Kibuishi’s Explorer collections, so it seemed sensible to try out his Amulet as well.  And what a great, interesting and unusual story it is.

Although I must admit I was pretty shocked by the fact that the main characters Emily and Navin are in a car accident in the prologue and their father is killed.  What a way to start!

After the death of their father, the family (Emily, Navin and their mom) move out to an old country estate to get some perspective on things.  As they begin to clean up the old house, they go into a room of inventions by their ancestor Silas Charnon.  The story is that Charnon went missing one day and was never heard from again. While Emily is looking over some books, a creepy ghost creatures hovers behind her.

Navin and Emily look around (they don’t see the ghost) and soon, Emily puts her hand on a hand-shaped plate and a necklace–an amulet–is revealed.  Emily puts it on and when Navin complains, she says he can wear it tomorrow.  But that night the amulet speaks to her.  It tells her to stay with her family and keep the safe–they are in danger. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: ASHLEY MONROE-Tiny Desk Concert #317 (November 3, 2013).

Ashley Monroe is a country singer.  She’s part of the new way of female country singers, most of whom I don’t really like.

But some of the folks at NPR music love country, so I’ll let the blurb do the talking for me:

The title track from Like a Rose tells an optimistic story of survival, the ambivalent ballad “You Got Me” chronicles ill-advised romantic obsession, and, of course, the Top 40 country hit “Weed Instead of Roses” functions as a playful, fun-loving mission statement. Speaking of “Weed Instead of Roses,” which closes this charming performance, Monroe says the straitlaced [Vince] Gill insisted upon the song’s inclusion on Like a Rose — even going so far as to declare it a condition of his producing the album. The guy knew what he was talking about, both in his support of the song and of Monroe herself.

“Like a Rose” is almost comical in how stereotypically country it starts out:  “I was only 13 when daddy died /Mama started drinking and my brother just quit trying.”  Good lord.  At least it has a positive message.

She says that the melody for “You Got Me” came to her in her sleep and woke her up.

“Weed Instead of Roses” is a song she wrote as a joke when she was 19.  She says her grandpappy first heard the lyric as “give me weeds as well as roses” and he thought that was right on because the weeds are just as important as the roses.

The song is definitely fun (and funny) but the whole set is way too twangy country for me.  And IO find her back up guitarist/vocalist to be even more whiny/twangy than her.  Yipes.

[READ: February 26, 2015] Gunnerkrigg Court 2 [15-22]

I was originally mixed on Volume 1 of this series, but I jumped right into this one and loved it from start to finish (even if I admit to not understanding everything that was going on).

The book, which compiles chapters 15-22 and some extras, doesn’t begin with any kind of recap, so you kind of have to catch up as you go along.

We meet the fairy from beyond the river who was turned into a girl.  She is very upset that her friend is no longer friends with her.  She assumes it’s because of her hair (which is now long).  In an amusing sequence, she believes that if she cuts her hair short and spiky she will be friends again (with some other girl).  She is delighted to learn she can cut her hair and it doesn’t hurt (then she attempts to cut off her finger).

But these cute one-off chapters are strategically placed between the more serious arc, which involves the awesome looking Muut (an owl head on a hunky man’s body) and the introduction of a short-haired woman who might be a teacher and who goes by the name Jones. She is a wise woman and an amazing fighter (she shows off by beating a man wielding a sword while she is unarmed). (more…)

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   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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