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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAY SOM-Tiny Desk Concert #633 (July 10, 2017).

I’d heard Jay Som’s “The Bus Song” and one other song from a few years back.  There was much I liked about the song.  I like the way the whole band chants “but I like the bus” during the second verse but more impressive is the way the chorus soars to great high notes (even more unexpected is the high notes that come from drummer Zachary Elsasser.

But aside from that I didn’t know much about Jay Som

Jay Som is the project of 23-year-old Melina Duterte, who has been creating music for the past 10 years or so on a multitude of instruments, from guitar to trumpet. Though she played every instrument on her newest record Everybody Works, her touring band here at the Tiny Desk gave a rougher edge to some of the more premeditated sounds on her wonderful album.

I know “The Bus Song” from All Songs Considered and that’s because:

Of the three songs they chose to bring to the Tiny Desk, one was a personal favorite from Everybody Works: “The Bus Song,” which is a perfect swirl of stream-of-consciousness:

Take your time
Won’t be long till our car breaks down
Your hands in mine
Feel like a firefighter when I take off your shoes

Before concluding with a thoughtful nod to her partner:

Take time to figure it out
I’ll be the one who sticks around
And I just want you to lead me
And I just want you to need me

It’s lyrics like this, alongside the comfy, no-frills directness of Duterte’s delivery, which make Jay Som feel so welcoming and refreshing.

Even though Melina is the leader of the band I was surprised to hear that the lead guitar work comes from Oliver Pinnell–she adds some great, interesting rhythm chords.   But mostly she focuses on singing. Her voice isn’t amazing or noteworthy, it’s just very nice and gentle (and tuneful).

“Baybee” opens with some fast high bass notes from Dylan Allard and then a soaring guitar line from Pinnell that sounds kind of like a synth.  Melina plays interesting chords to support him.  There’s cool moment when everything kind of slows down and grows woozy before resuming again.  The song is a little slick, but I like it.  She and Oliver play little solos off each other at the end.

Before the final song she says she’ll “wet my whistle,” and then says “well, it’s the end of the road. This is the last song ever.  We’re going to be gone forever.”

Oliver then chimes in, “I’m picturing the You Tube comments now, just like uhhh.” [I have no idea where he’s going with that].  Melina jokes, “Why are the so sweaty?”

Opening “I Think You’re Alright” she plays a chord, Oliver plays the same chord and then Dylan plays it.  It’s a smooth almost sultry song–again not what I expected from her.  Oliver sings high backing vocals.  The song feels like its coming to and end with Dylan scratching along the bass strings and then she and Oliver plays some slow chords that sure sounds like it’s going to end. And then she sings the slow final verse which ultimately ends pretty abruptly.

The set is pretty surprising given that the other song I know from her “1 Billion Dogs” is really fuzzy and almost shoegazey.  I’m curious to hear more from her.

[READ: May 10, 2017] “The Guide Dog of Hermosilla”

This is a fascinatingly told story translated by Martina Broner.

A man on his regular route sees a homeless man under a bridge.  The man has a dog.  The man doesn’t beg or really do anything.  And the dog seems to have infinite patience (the narrator is impressed with the dog–“his understated style was interesting.”

Then there’s this sentence:

One day, things were going well–I wasn’t getting laid off, not yet–and I wanted to show that I was grateful.

It’s the “not yet” part that I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be forecasting or concern.  But it hangs over the story like a cloud. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #600 (February 28, 2017).

I have, of course, heard of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I’ve probably even heard them on a record or two that I own.  But I don’t really know much about them (in this Concert there are only 7 of them, I don’t know if they ever actually have a dozen members).

But nevermind, because man, do they swing.  And they swing with a big chunk of funk.

“Use Your Brain” is catchy as anything–with a great funk sound.   I love that the bass is all done by the sousaphone (Kirk Joseph).  I love the squeaky trumpet solo that gets played at the end of the song by Gregory Davis.  And I love everything in between.  A cool thing is that there is a guitar (played by Takeshi Shimmura) in the song which you can barely hear except during the moment when the horns are quiet and then you hear it do a great little funky chord riff.  It’s not prominent, but it is essential.

“Best of All” has a very different style (an almost Latin feel)–with Efrem Towns the “vocalist” doing r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r- vocal rolls.  I’m intrigued that for most of these songs the saxophone Kevin Harris (tenor sax) and Roger Lewis (baritone sax) play the main riff most of the time and the trumpets are often silent (until they totally take the song higher).  Like the great high note in the middle of the song.  The guitar is playing lots of little riffs that you can hear every one in a while–rounding out the song very nicely.  And the sousaphone makes some great rumbling sounds.  This song has a drum solo and I love that the drummer (Julian Addison)is placed up at the front of the band so you can really see him–his playing is fluid and that solo is funky and not showoffy.

“Tomorrow” has a funky bass–all coming from the sousaphone–and a real ska feel (especially as the guys sing the chorus “Tomorrow yeah yeah yeah yeah”).  There’s a great rollicking solo from the baritone sax.  Whenever Towns sings, he’s barely audible over the music of the horns–which is fine because hearing his voice is fun even if you can’t really hear what he’s saying.

For the final song, “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now” Davis says:

This is the song where you all participate –you all been a little bit stiff, not moving.  (someone says , well it is NPR).  For this song we want you to participle. Don’t just stand there and clap like that, you know… move. Put your back into it.  Put your wiggle in the wiggle.  Drop it like it’s hot.  All that stuff you do behind closed doors do it now–well not all you do.

The song is super fun and dancey with a big chorus chant of “feet can’t fail me now, feet can’t fail me now.”  There’s some great horn and a cool wah wah guitar throughout the song.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band show just how much diversity you can get with “just a brass band.”  This was a super fun concert.

[READ: February 13, 2017] The Complete Peanuts Comics and Stories

This is the final book in the Complete Peanuts series from Fantagraphics.  It took 13 years–2 books a year–and here is the odds and ends collection to tie the series up.

There is an introduction by the editors of the series who explain just what this volume is:  The content has to be Peanuts, drawn by Schulz himself, and (when possible) with verification from Schulz’s widow, Jean.  Material that had not been seen before or was not in print in the twenty-first century got preferential treatment (no Happiness is a Warm Puppy, which is frequently reprinted).  So you’ll see dozens of strips not seen in any book and ones not printed in more than half a century. Six complete books are here– four story books, two volumes on life’s lessons.  Seven comic book stories, lots of single panel gags and lot of ads!

Then there is a Designer’s Note by Seth.  Seth has been behind all of these books (imagine dedicating 13 years of your life to something like this).  He says that he wanted these books to look and feel dignified and maybe even a bit sad.  He also wished to pay a personal tribute to Charles Schulz in his design.

He says that it was Schulz who first set him on the cartooning path.  He was the first artist Seth ever noticed: “Who is this magical person who signs his name in the last box of Peanuts?”  He never met the man and he’s not sorry about that–he has all he needs from the work itself.  He wants to think of this compete set as a monument to Schulz. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WESTERLIES-Tiny Desk Concert #575 (November 2, 2016).

The Westerlies call themselves “an accidental brass quartet,” (two trumpets and two trombones).  I don’t know if a brass quartet has a “standard make up,” but having only two instruments seems to make for an unexpected sound–one that feels more like a marching band than a swing or big band, but which is clearly not playing marching band music.  “Trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch can blow hard — after all, this is a brass band — but the surprise comes in their soft tones and subtle phrasing.”

The band doesn’t only play standards either.  For this Tiny Desk, they play three originals:

Clausen provides two tunes, beginning with “New Berlin, New York,” which sports a snappy theme, standing out like a bright tie on a smart suit. A scurrying pattern of interlocking notes furnishes the underlying fabric.  [I really like the staccato trombone notes which are really fast and bouncy.  Mulherkar  gets a pretty cool solo in the middle of the piece, but it sounds best when the two trumpets play together.  And yet there is another moment later on where it’s just one trumpet and one trombone and it sounds very cool.  I love watching the trombone play all of those fast notes].

Hensler’s “Run On Down” evokes the calm beauty of Washington’s San Juan Islands, north of the band’s former home base. [I love that he can get a different sound out of his trumpet without seeming to do anything different in his playing style. The song opens with two lonely sounding trumpets.  Midway through Clausen plays a sound like a person talking or humming.  I didn’t know you could change the tone and sound of a trombone like that].

Clausen ‘s closing number, “Rue Des Rosiers,” conjures up the circus-like vibe of a Parisian street scene. A whimsical theme gradually coalesces from fragments and grows into a rollicking amusement. [He introduces the piece by saying it was “inspired by a crazy old man riding a tricycle down the street of Paris. It was a giant tricycle and was wearing a beautiful bejeweled vest and there were windmills and horns and was something straight out of the circus.”  And boy, does this ever evoke circus music with the opening bass notes and the screaming trumpet.  The song slows down before building up into a rollicking circus piece.  And when one trumpet and one trombone put a mute on the sound gets all the more wild.  The piece ends with a variation on the traditional circus music before concluding].

[READ: June 2, 2016] Copper

After enjoying Kabuishi’s Explorer series I saw this book by him.

Copper was his first “comic strip” creation.  The story follows a boy named Copper who is quiet adventuresome and his dog Fred who is practical–and tries to keep him out of trouble.

In the introduction, Kabuishi says that the first comic (called Rocket Pack Fantasy) reflected his inner life at the time.  This proved to be his first published comic.  It was pretty dark (and black and white).  In that first one, he imagines wearing a rocket pack and then dropping bombs on a city.

But after a few more strips, Copper became more optimistic and Fred was there to question that optimism.  Kabuishi also added color. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAKHABRAKHA-“Kolyskova” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2017).

I loved DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful.  And so the performers came to SXSW and did a lullaby.  And as the blurb says, they brought their “cello, keyboard, accordion – and tall, wool hats! — to the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel.”

This lullaby of “Kolyskova” quiets things down a bit.  The song opens with simple keyboard notes.  One of the women sings, and when they reach the end of the verse, the male accordionist sings a falsetto that matches the women’s tone.  The woman on drums makes a strange sound–like a baby crying or animal yelping.

Then he winds up singing lead on the second verse in that falsetto with the women singing backing vocals.  Then the cello and drums kick in to build the sound.   The third verse is sung by the cellist as the keys play a pretty melody.

The song is upbeat with lots of bouncy vocals, even though the lyrics seem rather dark.  ‘The band only ever calls it “Lullaby.” It’s a quiet, contemplative song that the band says is a “connecting of several lullabies” with “philosophical lyrics that [say] we have time for everything — time to laugh and cry, time to live and die.’

I love at the very end as the song slows down to just the keyboardist singing because the drummer adds a very cool breathing as a kind of percussion accompaniment.  And then as the camera pulls back the two attack the keyboard making a cacophony of fun notes.  I bet they’re a lot of fun live.

[READ: June 2 2016] Explorer: The Hidden Doors

This is the third (and I assume final) in a series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

I really enjoyed the first one a lot and was pretty excited to read the rest. As with the other two I was delighted by the authors involved and the quality of these stories.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This book revolves around the theme of “hidden doors.”  I like the way each author takes a concept that seems like it would be pretty standard and turns their stories into things that are very different indeed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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