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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE MYNABIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #670 (November 10, 2017).

I thought the name The Mynabirds sounded familiar.  Turns out they performed Tiny Desk Concert #64 (by my count).

Bob Boilen says he

first met Laura Burhenn ten years ago for a songwriting project she did with John Davis, her then bandmate in the duo Georgie James, here at NPR called Project Song. [which I plan to write about at some point].  Her current band, The Mynabirds, are Tiny Desk alum, Laura having played her first Tiny Desk Concert in the spring of 2010.  I’m not one to repeat artists at the Tiny Desk. I’m more into discovering and challenging new bands to play in this intimate and awkward setting. But this project was so different and Laura had ideas about how to make it even more special from what she’d done back in 2010, so I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a tough year … the elections and subsequent inauguration, which were devastating to many. But what transpired next for anyone dismayed by those events was inspiring: The Women’s March united many who were in despair, while giving purpose and focus to what for them was an unthinkable outcome in the election of Donald Trump.

Then came the songs – nine new ones Laura Burhenn wrote with Patrick Damphier, inspired by the many marches around the country, listening to the news, seeing social media, talking to friends and taking it all in. The result is The Mynabirds’ politically charged 2017 album Be Here Now.

The band sings four songs.  “Golden Age” features Laura on keys with a backing band of cello (Alexia Kauffman), guitar (Emily Moore) and bass guitar (Damphier). This song is full of lamentations and her husky voice works quite well with it.  She speaks of dead musicians, and political horrors.  The solo in the middle is interesting for it being deliberately jarring and somewhat out of tune.  Lyrically the song is pretty outstanding

Tell me, where are our heroes
Are they stuck at the wall?
Cause we got some real villains to stop
Before they kill us all

I see what you’re doing
With the Jews and the Muslims
You’re sawing us all
In half with your fake fear

My heart’s full of love
And all kinds of peace
But I think even
I 
Could punch a Nazi 
In the face

I just wish the song was more angry than sad.

For second song, “Shouting At The Dark” The People’s Choir come in.  The song rocks more with a great swinging bassline and some interesting muffled chugging guitar.  The choir really fills out the song and it sounds great.

I love the melody of the chorus which is once again, not entirely pretty–slightly haunting, except that they sound beautiful.  Adriana-Lucia Cotes is hitting these slightly dissonant notes that really standout in an interesting way.

Before the third song, “Hold On,” Laura talks about the choir, songwriting and the Muslim travel ban:

While recording this album, a travel ban was issued affecting six Muslim-majority countries. She wrote a song for refugees inspired by the ban and got in touch with friends back in Omaha at the Refugee Empowerment Center. It is there she learned of the Umoja Choir whose members include resettled refugees from The Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and they ended up singing on her record. Laura also started a GoFundMe campaign for them to record their songs. Now some of those choir members Diendonne Manirakiza and Eric Esron (refugees from Burundi) have come to the Tiny Desk for a powerful set of songs. They’re joined by Michael Boggs, another Tiny Desk alum: Jessica Lea Mayfield. It’s an inspired project that I’m excited to share.

“Hold On” is “about having a heart.”  It’s a slower song with acoustic guitar and prominent cello.  The choir sounds like a “real” choir instead of backing vocalists on this uplifting song.

“Wild Hearts” opens with a cool echoed electric guitar.  For this song the choir works as powerful backing vocalists on this even more uplifting song.

[READ: May 20, 2017] Pretty Deadly 2

I didn’t really like the first book of this series.  And I didn’t like this book much either.  So I am officially giving up.

This book continues with the exposition by butterfly and dead rabbit.  An old woman, Sarah, is dying.  During the night she is visited by a ghost–of the man with slashes across his eyes, Fox (I can’t recall their relationship). Granddaughter Clara walks in and see the ghost.  Clara’s mother comes in and sees the ghost too.  And after some ugly words they ask if they can keep Sarah from dying until her son gets back to see her one last time–he is off fighting in a war somewhere. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk Concert #669 (November 8, 2017).

Back in the day, I really liked Ani DiFranco.  I saw here live a few times.  I loved her whole indie thing (all her music on her own label) and her politics.  Plus her songs were interesting and catchy.  And then, some time around 2000 I lost interest in her music.

I didn’t really like the new jazzy/funky/extended sound that she was playing with.

This Concert has two newish songs and one old song (it’s great to hear the old song again).

For her Tiny Desk debut, DiFranco brought a hell of a backing band, with drummer Terence Higgins and singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman joined by none other than Ivan Neville on keyboards.

I felt that her song writing style didn’t really lend itself to jazzy funky style. And I still feel that way.  The blurb notes that the band lends a slithery underpinning of funk to three songs that stretch across much of DiFranco’s career.  And Opening with “Dithering,” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, that is true.  But one of the things I loved about her music was her excellent guitar playing.  And on “Dithering,” all of the action of the song comes from the funky keys (and it’s a great groovy funky song), but I find that he singing style doesn’t quite work with the music.  Her voice still sounds terrific, though and Scheinman’s backing vocals are terrific.

Even if I still don’t love her new songs, I’m glad she’s still doing her own thing:

But she’s also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.   DiFranco introduces “Play God” (from this year’s Binary) with a monologue about reproductive rights and gender relations.

And it’s fantastic–pointed and thoughtful with just enough edge.  Musically, the song brings back some of her fingerpicking style and I do like Neville’s funky keys.  In fact the funkiness of this song feels natural.  And lyrically it’s great too.

She and her band close with 1998’s “Swan Dive,” which she calls “an early attempt at a happy song.”  I get a kick out of how she gets another guitar change and says “I never play a guitar twice.”  This song showcase what I loved (and love) about her songs–a complex and interesting guitar/rhythmic/percussive pattern that she does by herself.  The additional musicians add more fill, which sounds nice–the gentle keys and the slow violin (which also makes some great noisy sounds) as well as the way the drums kick in for the chorus.  It all works great.

It’s been about fifteen years since I really listened to her and I’m glad she’s still rocking to her own beat.

[READ: May 1, 2017] Pretty Deadly 1

I love Kelly DeConnick’s work with the Marvel Universe.  So I was pretty excited to read this story which is her own creation.

When I went to log this book on Goodreads, it said that this book marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher.  And I found that uncanny because as I was reading it I thought that the style of elliptical writing and even the placement of the text boxes in relation to the pictures was very much like Sandman. But the brutality of the art and the setting reminded me of Preacher. Clearly I was onto something.

I loved Sandman. I liked Preacher (never actually finished it, though), and I fear that this book is more Preacher than Sandman for me.

It begins very confusingly with a butterfly talking to a dead rabbit.  They are telling each other stories and they tell the story of when they met (which appears to be when the rabbit was shot and killed). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-sets one and three (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10 31, 2014).

The previous Ghost Box posts explored Phish’s Set two of their 2014 Halloween show.  But the rest of the night was perfectly suited to Halloween as well.

The band wore white tuxedos and white face paint.

Phish played a night of songs perfectly suited to Halloween.  A rousing spirited “Buried Alive” is followed by a slow moody “Ghost.”  “Ghost” had a lot of fuzzy dirty clavinet in the middle section.  It was followed by “Scent Of A Mule,” which features the Halloween related lyric:

She said, “I hate laser beams
And you never done see me askin’
For a UFO
In Tomahawk County”

A little guy from the UFO
Came on out and said his name was Joe
She said, “Come on over for some lemonade

There’s some wild piano soloing and then

an interesting “Mule Duel” segment spotlighting Mike and Trey. Mike utilized a synth effect, which drove the crowd wild, while Trey threw in dark and droning notes of his own. The interesting section of the Mule Duel climaxed with Mike and Trey holding their instruments in the air and rubbing them against each other, which made for quite a wild scene.

There’s some sci-fi sounding menace which seems to migrate into a kind of Yiddish melody until the song returns to the main melody again.

It as followed by a quick and fun “Sample In A Jar” which segues into a 12-minute “Reba” (a perfect Halloween song, indeed).  There’s a wailing solo just before the whistling coda.   It was followed by an intense “46 Days” (Taste the fear/For the devil’s drawing near) with some great mid-song soloing.  And then the perfect Halloween song: “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars.”  The verses were really heavy and chaotic (musical nonsense from everyone as the noise crescendoed).  The song was particularly long at almost 3 and a half minutes.

Page then showed off lounge skills with a fun “Lawn Boy.”  He  took the lead mic and wished everyone a Happy Halloween and praised the great costumes.  Then after giving Mike a quick solo he had Fish do a very quick drum solo (he didn’t seem like he wanted to).  Next came another great Halloween song: “I Saw It Again”

When I wake in the night
(when I wake up in the night I’m pulled from my dreams)
Well, when something’s not right
I try not to look
(but the curtains pull open its breathing I hear)
For there is the shape
That I fear
And I’m fully woken
I saw it again

It had a great menacing feel to it with Trey’s wah wah adding extra sounds and the guys adding screams and cries during the choruses.  A funky “Tube” was next [You’re a portrait of your past / There’s a mummy in the cabinet / Are there no more arrows left?].  The set ended with a sprightly “Wolfman’s Brother.”  That opening piano note really snapped the darkness out of that previous ending.

Set two, was, of course the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House [narration by Laura Olsher; Sound Effects by Walt Disney Sound Effects Group].

The third set pretty much eschews the Halloween motif.  “Punch You In The Eye” kicked it off with a 9 minute jam.  Then came a jaunty cover of TV on the Radio’s “Golden Age.”  Midway through, Page jumped over to his Wurlitzer electric piano as Fish altered his beat ever so slightly over the course of the 11-minute song.  There were a few times when it seemed the jam had petered out, but Page kept the keys going until Trey played the opening riff of “Tweezer.”  “Tweezer” was only 10 minutes long, but mid song they made a turn towards a bright, dreamy chord progression and eventually landed on a bright “Heavy Things.”

The expertly executed segue between the two is well worth the re-listen.

The 11 minute “Guyute” seems a but slow, but the end riffing part is really fast and intense and the slow last verse is quite menacing.  Although it comes out of that song bouncy once again and sets the stage for an 18 minute “Sand.”  There’s some great soloing from Trey and some cool funky keys from Page.

Just when “Sand” had hit its peak, the band pulled back and embarked on a second jam. McConnell took the lead on “Sand”s second jam as it seemed the band never wanted to stop playing the song. As Page milked the clavinet, Trey delivered thick, dirty riffs.

There were a few funk breaks (with Mike’s watery bass) and at each pause the crowd responded with a “whoo!”  Near the end of the song, the band started rocking out some heavy chords (with whooos as needed).  And while the band jammed those chords, Trey started playing a riff that sounded suspiciously like “Tweezer Reprise.”  I love when the band is playing basically two songs at once.  Eventually they all joined in for a spirited run through of the song.

The roof nearly came off the MGM Grand Arena by the time “Tweezer Reprise” came to a close as the clock approached 1 a.m. local time.

For the encore, they played Leonard Cohen’s “Is This What You Wanted,” sung by Mike.  It’s interesting to hear this done not but Cohen whose voice is so distinctive.  The song contains the lines “And is this what you wanted, To live in a house that is haunted, By the ghost of you and me?” which fits the haunted house theme perfectly.  Despite thematic choice, it’s not an especially rousing encore.  Which is why the band had one more Halloween song in mind.

Page came out with his keytar, [“which once was owned by James Brown,”] for The Edgar Winter Group’s  “Frankenstein.”  It sounded great and Page’s keytar had some fantastic old-school sounds that fit the Halloween theme perfectly.

The band played for almost four hours that night.  Now that is a treat!

[READ: October 26, 2017] “Hallowe’en in a Suburb”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, on the inside cover, one “window” of the 11 boxes is “folded.”  I am taking that as a suggested order.

Tucked into the bottom of the box is an orange rectangle with the poem “Hallowe’en in a Suburb” by H.P. Lovecraft.

Typically I don’t find poems to be particularly scary.  It’s hard to make rhymes scary.  But Lovecraft does his creepiness pretty well.  This one is written in English Quintain style (A-B-A-B-B).

This poem is more a disturbingly supernatural description of the suburbs around Halloween. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-“Martian Monster” (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10, 31, 2014).

In honor of Halloween, these Ghost Box stories will be attached to a recent Phish Halloween show [with quoted material from various reviews]. 

Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate [Halloween], Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music.  The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.  But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC.  At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground.  Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. 

“Martian Monster” is the final song in the Phish Halloween set.  It’s a funky clavinet-fueled rocker and the longest track at 14 plus minutes.  Page is having a lot of fun on this song, both playing the riffs and sampling portions of the narration.

The song is meant to be a trip to Mars.  Because of the speed of your rocket, your trip is short.  It as described as

a filthy, original Phish groove mixed with spoken word quotes, sound effects and vocal warbles as actors performed zombie-fied dances in the space surrounding the haunted house. McConnell’s funky clavinet leads were at the forefront of the deliciously weird “Martian Monster.”

There are dozens of samples of “your trip is short.”  By the middle of the song, Trey starts reciting “your trip is short” which is getting manipulated crazily.  They are processed and robotic as we hear the Martian chewing and chewing (chewing you, obviously).

The song builds and builds and builds to a big blast off climax and then it returns to the funky keys and lots of “your trip is short.”

It’s a great ending to this surprising original set.

[READ: October 25, 2017] “Shadetree”

Just in time for Halloween. from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  Lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no “order” to these books, so I’m reading them in what I think was the order they were boxed (or at least the order I last put them back in the box).

This is the final book in the box and it’s a doozy.

There was a lot of this story that made me really angry and I’m trying to decide if it’s a misogynist story or just a powerful story where a woman is the victim (subtle distinction, I know).

The story is about a girl named Colly Sue and a boy named Shadetree.  They enjoyed listening to the stories that Shadetree’s great-uncle would tell.  They were spooky supernatural stories about ghosts, witches and haunts.  He had a dry whispery voice and it made the stories seem very real. Colly Sue was frightened but never stopped coming to hear.  Shadetree enjoyed spooking Colly Sue.  He would grab her during the story or claim that he was a spook or a haunt.  One day he told Colly Sue that he was a swapchild–a small haunt that was exchanged for a human being.  And Colly Sue didn’t doubt it.  Shadetree asserted, “I’d never hurt you, Colly Sue.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-“The Chinese Water Torture” (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10, 31, 2014).

In honor of Halloween, these Ghost Box stories will be attached to a recent Phish Halloween show [with quoted material from various reviews]. 

Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate [Halloween], Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music.  The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.  But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC.  At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground.  Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. 

“The Chinese Water Torture” was scored with an upbeat groove that almost seemed like a mix of “Cars Trucks Buses” and “Axel F.” There was a familiarity to all the progessions Phish debuted in the Haunted House, but this was Phish drawing on their influences and own music to create something completely new and original. “The Chinese Water Torture” also contained a potent jam filled with bombastic leads from Trey.

There’s a cool key board melody while Trey is doing so solo bends.   And then he starts taking off on his solos.  There’s a wailing solo by the end with some great drums from Fish.  I like that the drop from the record is sampled throughout.

And I guess we’ll just leave out that this is all pretty racist.

[READ: October 16, 2017] “Opening the Door

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, on the inside cover, one “window” of the 11 boxes is “folded.”  I am taking that as a suggested order.

I’m intrigued that older stories seemed to want a kind of narrative device to tell stories like this.  Whether it was the radio station in “The Night Wire” or the way “The Clock” was told in response to another person’s story, there’s seems to be a need to frame these stories. (more…)

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