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Archive for the ‘Tabitha’ Category

[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I might be one of the few people in America to have never read anything by James Patterson.  Well, Clark really enjoyed this series (and his other books for young readers) so we decided to listen to this on a car ride. (Both kids had seen the film already, although I hadn’t).

I have to say that right off the bat I was turned off by the introduction of this book because there was this hard rocking guitar that they played through about 3 minutes of opening text.  And it was too loud!  It was really hard to hear the narrator.  I kind of tuned out because I feared that the whole book would feature this (it doesn’t).  And while I won’t say I was confused by what I missed, I did wonder if I’d missed some things that were revealed later (also, some of the main character’s motivation).

Rafe Khatchadorian is starting Hills Village Middle School.  It’s a new school (sixth grade).  Rafe seems to have a hard to succeeding in school in general.  There’s also a lot going on at home.  His mom has been dating a jerk named Bear.  Bear is unemployed, and living with them while Rafe’s mom is working two jobs and is hardly ever home.

The only person who seems to help Rafe cope with things is his friend Leo the Silent.  Leo doesn’t talk much, but he is an awesome artist.  And he also encourages Rafe to do things that maybe he shouldn’t.

When Rafe arrives at school, he is given a rule book with over 100 rules that he must follow.  Given the possibility of hanging out, being good and following the rules or having fun and enjoying school, he and Leo make a choice.  And they come up with “Operation R.A.F.E.” (which stands for Rules Aren’t For Everyone).  The operation is set up like a video game.  Rafe is going to try to break every rule in the handbook. Leo will award him points.  But he will also only have three “lives,” which he will lose if he gets caught or otherwise fails in his quest. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VAGABON-Tiny Desk Concert #710 (February 23, 2018).

It’s always my favorite artists who play the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts.  August Greene was okay and it went 36 minutes but Vagabon didn’t even manage ten.  Neverthless, there’s something magical about Vagabon.  Her voice is unique, she brings a new perspective to indie rock and she seems pretty nice too.

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. Though all the songs here are about love, Vagabon also speaks proudly to black women on her 2017 album, Infinite Worlds. There aren’t a lot of black women in this bedroom studio community of independents, a community that, especially in New York, has welcomed her and where she mostly found stimulus and guidance.

Her pride shines bright in her smile and as well it should. For someone self-taught and who’s been playing for only the past four years, her arrangements are adept and thoughtful in an independent rock music scene that can often be lyrically lazy and texturally tepid.

Her album is quite big with loud guitars and crashing drums.  But in this Tiny Desk, it’s just her and her equipment (and a stellar bassist on the second and third songs).

For the first song “Fear & Force,” she plays electric guitar.  There’s some lovely picking and great chords before she sings in her unique voice–whispered and deep (so much deeper than her speaking voice).  I love that she is still picking as she uses her left hand to start the electronic drum machine that makes the song sound so big.  The album version gets really big in the middle but she keeps things quiet here.  The chorus is wonderfully powerful and elliptical.

“Freddy come back, I know you love where you are, but I think I changed my mind.”

I love the abrupt ending too.

We were also treated to a new song during this Tiny Desk performance called “Full Moon In Gemini,” which, coincidentally, was performed on the day of a total lunar eclipse in Leo – she warned us all to “watch yourselves.

It’s amazing to hear her sing so powerfully after her delicate speaking voice.  She introduces Evan Lawrence on bass and his live bass is a tremendous addition.  He plays great lines that really flesh out her playing.  I love the way the song ends.  She sings “I lay in my bed with you it fees so …  so … good,” and the drums and bass continue for ten seconds before she shuts it all down (having already grabbed her mug and taken a sip).

Before the final song she explains that she taught herself how to play these instruments about four years ago.  Since then she’s been “hauling ass.”

Vagabon’s poetry speaks to love. You can hear it in “Cold Apartment.” While she closes the Tiny Desk set with it, it was the first song she ever wrote and one that came to her during a difficult time in her life.

“And we sat on my cold apartment floor
Where we thought we would stay in love
Stay in love”

She says she finds it very gratifying to share it in this powerful way.  The song has a terrific guitar melody with an outstanding accompany bass.  This is all especially true during the bridge/chorus when the bass gets really low and works perfectly with what she’s playing.  I find it actually works even better than on record where the drums are terrific but kind of drown out the bass.

I really hope she comes back around for a tour soon.

[READ: December 30, 2017] Beyond the Western Deep 

Tabby brought this book home and thought I’d enjoy it.  Which I did.

It’s a story of war with rather cute animals drawn by Bennett

It opens with some story telling about the history of this land.  It looks almost like cave drawings chaos and endless nights of war.  Eventually a treaty was signed and the land was divided into four places.

The Ermehn were driven from ancestral lands and made to live in the Northern Wastes (they’re not happy about it).
The Canid established the Kingdom of Aisling and has the strongest army in the land.  They are ruthless and humorless.
The Felis built the crowing achievement city of Gair.
The Vulpin live in the desert kingdon of Navran.
Sungrove is ruled jointly by the Lutren and Tamian races

The seafaring Polcan are poised to invade Sunsgrove.

Confused? Me too. It’s a heck of a lot of backstory for what is a fairly short and simple first part. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #700 (January 31, 2018).

I had never heard of Alice Smith before, which I guess isn’t totally unsurprising given the blurb:

For those not familiar, Smith made a big splash among true-school heads in 2006 with the release of her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me. That record, whose title is a play on “The Rainbow Connection,” brimmed with an arcane magic, and it created a legion of lifelong fans.

Smith’s live performances usually highlight songs from For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me, her 2013 album, She, and her repertoire of cover songs. But for her Tiny Desk performance, Smith gifted us with three stunning song premieres that left the room entirely in her thrall.

Smith’s voice is great (although I found the voice of her backing singer, Kristin Brooks, to be even prettier.  I don’t think you could hear the other backing singer, Chauncey Matthews, at all).

Since the blurb talks about each song, I’m just adding my comments at the end

The first song, “Mystery,” feels like walking into the home of that friend of yours who is clearly more worldly than you, where there’s always a cool breeze, no matter the season.  [I really liked the low-key nature of this song].

The second song, which is so new that it doesn’t have a title, exudes the liminal uneasiness of being out of tune with yourself. The wisdom of the song draws from the notion that the top of Maslow’s pyramid is found within. [Alice’s voice is really nice in this catchy, rather conventional R&B song].

The closing “Something” is an undulating soul search that attacks and recedes like a cloudy beach morning. Smith was unabashedly in her pocket here, alternating between falsetto, tremolo and touches of jazz. This dash of Broadway at an office cubicle is what makes the Tiny Desk series so special.  [This sounds very Broadway in the beginning. I didn’t care for all of the keening and whooping near the end though].

So I am clearly not a true-school head (nor do I know what that means).  But I did think her voice was quite nice.  She introduced the band at the end, first name only.  The blurb has their last names, but didn’t include guitarist Frank at all: Dennis Hamm keys, Greg Clark drums.

[READ: November 5, 2017] All’s Faire in Middle School

I really enjoyed Jamieson’s Roller Girl.  It was a great story and it featured roller derby!

I was excited to read this story, but I was a little concerned that Jamieson was going to try to shoehorn in a conceit that Middle School is like the Middle Ages or something.  Well, I needn’t have been.  Jamieson does something that might be even cooler than Roller derby–she sets her story at a Ren Faire!

Imogen and her family work at the local Ren Faire and have done so for years.  Her father is a part- time actor (and pool salesman) but his passion is being the bad guy at the Ren Faire.  We meet a whole cast of characters who work the Ren Faire.  Some stay put and only work there, but others travel and work the circuit.

But Middle School is also in the title.  It’s not just that Imogen is going to middle school.  Up until this point she has been home-schooled.  So she is starting middle school and school at the same time! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OPEN MIKE EAGLE-Tiny Desk Concert #687 (January 3, 2018).

I had seen Iron Mike Eagle’s album on a lot of Year End Best of lists, but I hadn’t heard of him before.  Well, I absolutely loved his Tiny Desk Concert and I’m ready to get his album as well.

I love that the “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home” starts with a live trumpet and the rest of the band is there playing live, too–two synths, a live bass and Mike on some kind of techie gadget.  But the great thing about this Concert is Mike’s delivery.

He sings/raps and he’s got an uplifting style of rapping combined with the spare but cool/weird music that fit with the lyrics.

And it’s really the lyrics that won me over.

Everybody’s secrets inspire all of my scenes
I write in all of my fantasies and I die in all of my dreams
My superpowers I maintain
I take control of my scene

and the hook:

I done told
Some goofy shit that sounded like a poem
I spun around in circles on the globe
So who the hell could ever feel at home

I could tell that  the lyrics were pretty interesting, but I was surprised to read:

Open Mike Eagle may have released one of the most political albums of 2017, but Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is also among the most personal. It comes across best in his live performances. For only the second time during his recent tour cycle, the LA-based artist played a set aided by the live instrumentation of musicians Jordan Katz (trumpet, keys, sampler), Josh Lopez (keys, sampler) and Brandon Owens (bass) for his Tiny Desk debut.

He performed two songs from the stellar Brick.  The title comes from:

It’s been a decade since the last brick fell from the Robert Taylor Homes, the old Chicago Housing Authority project personified on the record. Yet, when it comes to excavating the politics of place, and all the racial implications inherent in cultural erasure, there is no project released in recent years that comes close.

“Daydreaming in the Projects” is, like the other songs, political but warm:

(This goes out to)
Ghetto children, making codewords
In the projects around the world
Ghetto children, fighting dragons
In the projects around the world

and then this seemingly nonsensical rhyme that speaks volumes

Everything is better when you don’t know nothing
I’m grown so I’m always disgusted
All these discussions online is mayonnaise versus mustard
Mayonnaise people think French can’t be trusted
Mustard people think eggs is all busted
But fuck it
We in it for the pattern interruptions

I love that it is accompanied by a simple but pretty trumpet melody while Jordan is also playing keys.

The set ender “Very Much Money,” from his 2014 album Dark Comedy, is tremendous.

What a great verse:

My friends are superheros
None of us have very much money though
They can fly, run fast, read Portuguese
None of us have very much money though
They know judo and yoga, photography, politics
Some of them leap over buildings
Writers, magicians, comedians, astronauts
None of it mattered when niggas was hungry

All to a catchy, cool beat that is in the spirit of bands like De La Soul, but far more modern and powerful.  Great stuff.  And if “Very Much Money” is representative, I need to check out his old stuff too.  And maybe even the other three (!) bands he’s with: he is a member of the hip hop collective Project Blowed. He is also a member of Thirsty Fish and Swim Team.

 

[READ: October 20, 2017] If Found

Tabitha had this book and I thought it looked really cute so I grabbed it not really knowing what it was.

Basically, it is the blank notebook of Montreal artist Elise Gravel.  She says:

At night, when my daughters are asleep, I draw in my blank notebook.  I draw complete nonsense   Whatever comes to my mind.  When I draw in my black notebook, it feels good–it’s as if I let out all the ideas that are bouncing around in my head.  I never critique the drawings in my black notebook. I give myself the right to fail.  To mess up, to create ugly drawings.  I’m kind to myself. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby

I was really excited to get this third volume of the Nightmares! series.

The previous book ended with the startling revelation that on the first day of the new school year, India Kessog (INK) is sitting in Charlie’s classroom.

INK and her sister ICK were responsible for creating the tonic that nearly destroyed Orville Falls–not to mention the Dream Realm, the Netherworld and the Waking World.

Charlie and his friends knew that INK was on this side of the portal and that her sister ICK was still in the nightmare realm, but they never expected that INK would come to them rather than then having to track her down.

INK is still dressed like she has always been–in old-fashioned clothes with a red bow–exactly the way that she (or ICK, they are twins) terrorized everyone’s dreams in Charlie’s town.  As INK walks through the school–observing everything very carefully–all of the kids keep their distance and stare and whisper.

When she sits down to eat, she is repulsed by the chicken nuggets–who wouldn’t be?  But she loves the tater tots.  That must make her okay right? (c’mon, EVERYONE loves the tater tots).  Charlie is just about to go approach her when his little brother Jack beats him to it.  And he starts talking to India (he calls her Indy) like she was his friend instead of a monster.  They seem to be having a good conversation until a new characters approaches. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic

2I though the first Nightmares! book was great.  I had listened to both of these books before, but what was fun about listening this time is that the end of book one gives a little hint at what book two would be about.

Towards the end of Book One, the story tells us that Charlotte’s business was doing well, although a new store had opened up in the next town and was also doing very well–possibly taking away her customers.

And that’s essentially what book two is about.  (No, not about small town commerce).

But let’s back up.  In book one, Charlie Laird and his three friends Paige, Alfie and Rocco prevented the evil president of the Netherworld from taking over the waking world.

Back up some more.  Nightmares aren’t bad.  They are there to frighten us, yes, but their goal is for us to face our fears and come out stronger.  They don’t want to hurt any of us. But the nightmares have an enemy–the goblins.  The goblins have been forced out of the nightmare realm never to return.  And they are constantly trying to get back into the Netherworld. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2016 & November 2016] Nightmares!

nightmresI loved Jason Segel on How I Met Your Mother.  I loved that Jason Segel was instrumental in bringing The Muppets back to the big screen.  And now I love that Jason Segel has written a series of really enjoyable–funny and frightening–children’s books.

This book is about–wait for it–nightmares.  But not in the way that you might expect.  Segel (and Miller–I have no idea how much she contributed to the book) have created a realm where Nightmares live.  It is a wonderfully realized and very well thought out world.  And I am really impressed with how well the whole story works.

It is the story of Charlie Laird.  Charlie is a pretty normal kid.  He does okay in school, he has friends, his family loves him.  But three years ago his mom died unexpectedly.  It was a harsh blow to him and his family.  Charlie has never really gotten over it.  And what has made it especially tough is that Charlie’s dad recently got remarried.  Apparently he got over it just fine.

If that weren’t bad enough, Charlie’s family moved from his old house–the house he grew up in and loved–into the mansion on the hill.  Not a far move–still in the city of Cypress Creek–but worlds apart from what he was used to.  Or what he wanted.

The mansion has always been there in town. It is huge and…it is purple.  It towers over the whole town–you can’t avoid looking at it–and it has always been rather creepy.  It was built a long time ago by Silas DeChant, and it has been in the DeChant family ever since.  So it makes sense that Charlie’s new stepmother, Charlotte, who is a DeChant, would want to live there.

But Charlie hates it  And he hates Charlotte, and he hates anything that tries to get him to see reason about his horrible stepmonster (I didn’t like the lazy use of this term, but it is rather appropriate). (more…)

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