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SOUNDTRACK: SUNNY WAR-Tiny Desk Concert #909 (November 13, 2019).

Sunny War says twice that she’s not going to talk.  She saves all of her words for her songs.

Her voice is soft and gentle, but her words are strong.

The first song “If It Wasn’t Broken” features the chorus “how would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?”

Further lyrics in this slow and simple song:

so you lost your baby
so you lost your job
so you lost all faith
in the one you call god.

Dang.

These are words from a young woman who has been homeless, busked on city streets and Venice Beach, left home feeling she was a burden to her distraught mother, had her life complicated by drugs, and yet still found a way to pick up a guitar and bring joy to others.

Her songs aren’t complicated, but they feature some really excellent fingerpicking.  “Got No Ride” has a lot of beautiful interludes (including one part where she is fingerpicking and bending a string at the same time).

Sunny War began learning guitar from her uncle at around the age of seven. One of the early songs she learned was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” an almost prophetic tune with the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” But it was the fingerpicking that was the attraction for Sunny War. She loved playing guitar that way as opposed to strumming and, as you watch this Tiny Desk, you’ll see what a fluid and remarkable guitar player she’s become.

The song also features some extra bass lines from Aroyn Davis (The first song didn’t really have noticeable bass).

“Love Became Pain” is a lot faster, with some really impressive guitar work.  Clearly from the title, though, this isn’t a happy song either.  I like the shuffle drums that Paul Allen gets using brushes on the cajón.

The final song, “Shell” opens with the lines:

“Before you rip your girl to shreds / Be sure you really want her dead.”

With such a pretty melody, too!

Much like her name, Sunny War’s music is a wonder of contradictions.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 4

This book concludes the Rust saga.

Like the first book, there are a ton of pages with no dialogue.  This story is wonderfully told with just visuals.  And Lepp’s visuals are really amazing–what he accomplishes with such  limited color palette is really impressive.

The book starts with a flashback to the war 48 years ago.  It’s been awhile since I read the first book but I feel like this intro pages are exactly the same.  We see Jet Jones rescue a man by creating a large shield.  I’m not sure if there;s some more significance.  I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to know who the man is.

But the story quickly jumps back to the Taylor’s farm.  The really menacing robots are closing in.  Oz has a shotgun in ready.  And the engineer is carrying Jet Jones’ limp body away with him.

The robots arrive (why does it amuse me that they open the door) and Oz shoots, which awakens the family.

A terrible battle commences in the house with all of the people getting hurt, but with all of them doing a good job of harming the robots.  Jet comes in at the last second and smashes up some of the robots.  In the process reveals his mechanical arm.  The family is shocked, except for Oz.  Roman is furious that Jet lied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-“You and I” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Mountain Man is a trio of three women with beautiful voices.  They often sing a capella or with one guitar accompaniment.  There music is quiet, designed for you to lean in to hear better.

The original song is a gentle folk song (with some gently rocking moments).  Mountain Man make it even more gentle.  The original has a vocal harmony from Feist.  Having a two harmony voices makes this version even more special.

Alexandra Sauser-Moning plays guitar (and maybe sings lead?) while Amelia Meath and Molly Sarle sing gorgeous harmonies.

As with everything Mountain Man does, it’s delicate and lovely.

[READ: February 11, 2020] The Time Museum: Vol. 2

Volume 2 opens up with very little explanation about what happened before.  In fact, it jumps right in the middle of a chase.  A purple creature with four tentacles is running away from Delia in an amusement park.  The purple creature is a kid and he doesn’t know why he’s being chased.  Delia communicates through her wrist watch that the kid has the Icono de Prestigo.

The rest of the beginning of the book has Delia’s Epoch Team chasing this (very fast) kid as he flees with the Icono.  The kid finally settles in the middle of an exhibit for Monstro the Terrible.  They freak out and don’t want to see the kid hurt, but he says his dad works there and the exhibit has been empty for years.  Which proves to be false as immediately Monstro (who looks a lot like the monsters in Stranger Things) awakens and swallows the kid.

Through some brave and disgusting techniques the kid and the icono are rescued.

After all of that, the kid hands over the icono and says its probably all melted anyway.  What?  Then they see him walk by with another one–the icono is actually a container for an ice cream sundae.  The Team was hundreds of years too late to save the actual relic.  When they return they are given a reprimand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PARQUET COURTS-“I Got Drugs (at the End of the Century)” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

This track is about as far from the Wilco sound as I can imagine.  Plus, this is a mash up of two Wilco songs, “Handshake Drugs” and “I Got You (at the End of the Century).”  The song opens with Austin singing the lyrics to “Handshake Drugs” while the rest of the band chants the backing vocals of “I Got You” at the end of each verse.

Musically it’s very un-Wiclo as well.  There’s a drum sound which sounds like a sample of a person making a drum sound.  There’s a chiming repeating guitar sound and a big rumbling bass. And of course the vocal delivery is about as far from Jeff Tweedy as you can get.

Austin sings the first two verses while the responding chants move further down the lyrics of “I Got You,” now chanting something else.

There’s  simple weird synth solo in the middle.  Then the end half of the song is loud and dancey with a lot of chanting, “It’s the end of the century” and an unhinged guitar solo.

This song sounds like neither of the two songs it’s taken from, making this a fascinating and ultimately very cool cover.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 3

Volume three is the penultimate volume of the series.  I can’t believe how short this series is.  It seems like so little has actually happened and yet so much has gone on.

The story continues where volume 2 left off–in fact the first thing we see is the robot that Jet has destroyed.  But it is not destroyed, it easily rights itself and takes off after Jet.

Jet returns to the train to get Oz, but the robot is right behind them.  Jet uses a clever maneuver to avoid the robot who crashes into the train while it is on a huge bridge.  The train starts to goes over, bringing Oz (and presumably the conductor(!!) with it.  Jet is able to rescue Oz at the last second (no word on anyone else).  Nevertheless, Oz refuses to give Jet the oil cell, even though Oz is clearly dying.   Finally Jet has to punch Oz to save himself.  Jet flies Oz back to his family.

But Oswald is still not happy about Jet and he reveals what he knows to Roman and Jesse.  They drive off leaving Jet n a field.  And that’s where the man with the beard finds him.

He says this is the longest that Jet has stayed in one place. Jet reveals that he thinks the family needs him and he want to stay.  But the man says that is he stays he will bring the entire military to their doorstep. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-“Company in My Back” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Cate Le Bon is a fascinating character, an esoteric Welsh singer who experiments with interesting sounds.  I don’t know that there’s many people like her.  I’m looking forward to seeing her live with Kurt Vile in a couple of months.

Her take on this familiar song is pretty simple—she sings with a kind of deadpan delivery which really accentuates the words.  The verses are a sort of repetitive sound that sounds like a full-sized toy piano with some cool bass lines throughout.

When the chorus kicks in there’s all kind of unexpected horn sounds flitting about.

It’s pretty far from the original but is really fun.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust Vol. 2

Volume 2 resumes right where the last book left off.  We’re at the Taylor farm and Roman is looking at the pitchfork that Jesse used to stop the machine that was heading toward the farm.  But Roman has more questions about the pitchfork than the machine.  After inspecting it he decides that only Jesse’s grandfather, Mr. Aicot could have made a pitchfork that could stop a machine like that.

Roman fixes up the machine so that it will repair his truck.  But it seems to go after Jesse–it stops short of doing anything to her but it sure gives her the creeps.  This is a good point to say how cool these machine robots are.  Their faces are essentially a triangular Venetian blind look.  Horizontal lines with a pointed front (like a nose).  They are dressed in long coats and look incredibly menacing.

Meanwhile Jet is feeling weaker and weaker.  Oz is spying on him and sees Jet remove his power cell–Oz realizes that jet is a robot!  This freaks him out.  He bikes to Mr Aicot’s house and reveals the secret.  Mr Aicot says that he knew already, but he never said anything to anyone because no one would believe him,

Then he has some things to show Oswald. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JIMMY EAT WORLD-Tiny Desk Concert #938 (January 29, 2020).

I’ll never understand the logistics of the Tiny Desk Concert setup.

This Concert features Jimmy Eat World, an unarguably huge band (at one time at least).  They’re doing something cool–playing their songs acoustically with no drums.

And they play for … less than 12 minutes.

Meanwhile the previous Tiny Desk Concert was by a young reggae person who, while she won a Grammy, is certainly not as well known or regarded as Jimmy Eat World.  And she got 15 minutes.  I’m okay with bands that I like playing a short set, it’s just frustrating that so many bands that I don’t know–usually in genres I don’t like as much–get two and sometimes three times as much air time.

But whatever.   Maybe the bands don’t want to play for that long.  But Jimmy Eat World came for their Tiny Desk Concert looking to have fun.

Jimmy Eat World showed up to the NPR Music office all smiles and no guitars, goofing off with toy instruments behind the Tiny Desk and cracking jokes. They borrowed a couple acoustics, a miniature gong and tambourine emblazoned with Bob Boilen’s face, which set the tone for a slightly silly, but altogether gracious performance.

They open with “Love Never” which features Jim Adkins singing lead and Robin Vining singing harmony.  I never noticed how fantastic their harmonies are–they are really spot on.  I wonder if it’s more noticeable in this stripped down format (or maybe it’s because Vining is a touring member and was picked because his voice is amazing).

What’s really funny during this song is that drummer Zach Lind is standing behind them the whole time doing nothing. And then for the last note, he hits Bob Boilen’s gong.  It’s pretty funny and everyone cracks up.

The next song, “All the Way (Stay)” comes from the band’s tenth album, Surviving.  [They have been around for twenty-seven years!].  Zach plays the tambourine.   Again, the vocal harmonies are outstanding as Robin picks out the melody while Jim strums.

Introducing the final song, Jim says their new songs reflect their earlier song ideas: “Your sense of self-worth coming from external validation is an empty pursuit,”

Guitarist Tom Linton joins the band for the final song.  During the introduction, Adkins gets distracted by Tom’s guitar (and goofs about throat singing) before getting everyone super excited that they’re going to play “The Middle.”

I’m fascinated to realize that I’ve known this song for nearly 30 years.  It’s still fun to sing along to–which the audience does.

this feel-good Bleed American single has remained a constant source of goodness in a sometimes bleak world. When the audience joins in for the last chorus, an uplifting catharsis streaked through our hearts as we all sang, “Everything, everything will be just fine / Everything, everything will be all right, all right.”

I’m always thrilled when bands like this get a Tiny Desk and I hope there’s more to come!

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 1

Volume 1 picks up right where the prologue left off.  We are at Roman Taylor’s farm.  Roman is typing a letter to his (deceased?) father.  He says that mom is doing good and the little ones are fine. He hopes little Oswald will stick round, he could sure use help on the farm.

Then he tells about Jet Jones.

How on the day he arrived, Jet came screaming through the sky like he’d been shot out of a cannon.  He crashed through the barn and into the field.   When Roman went to look at him he heard a sound coming from behind the barn.   It was a large machine, clearly on a mission

The machine grabbed the boy and hurled him into a tree–which snapped in half. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KOFFEE-Tiny Desk Concert #937 (January 27, 2020).

I can honestly say I didn’t know that there were musicians making new reggae music.  I mean, obviously there are–it’s not like the genre just stopped or anything–but I never hear about them.

So I was pretty surprised to play this Tiny Desk Concert and hear a reggae song start up.

Koffee is a 19 year-old Jamaican reggae star.  She just won a Grammy for best Reggae album (for an EP).  She is the first woman and the youngest artist to win the category.

She sings four songs.

“Raggamuffin” opens with her shouting out NPR quite a lot (is that all improvised or is she modifying existing lyrics?).  While the music has the typical reggae rhythm (although faster than old school reggae to be sure), her delivery is really amazing.  She sing (raps?) so fast during the verses.  It’s really an impressive display even if I can’t understand a word she says.

Her band is from different places around the world

“Rapture” has her singing along with her backing singers, Zhayna France and Shanice Drysdale (both from Jamaica) who really flesh out her voice.  There’s some cool moments where the lyrics pause to allow her to say a pointed word.  This song has a guitar solo from Thomas Broussard (from Paris).  It’s also really fun watching drummer Stephen Asamoah-Duah (London) and percussionist Stephen Forbes (Jamaica) communicating with each other and high-fiving at the end of the song.

Koffee centers her music around faith, resilience and gratitude. She has a new perspective to add to the pantheon of mostly male reggae greats and it’s resonating with a new generation that’s just getting hip to the iconic sounds. As her Tiny Desk performance shows, Koffee makes the best of her surroundings, channeling the day’s buzzy energy into a balancing act of youthful heart and old-pro precision, proving why she has become one of the most invigorating voices in reggae.

“Toast” opens with a fun keyboard melody from David Melodee (London).  Then the full song kicks in with a groovy five string bass from Nana Pokes (London) and acoustic guitar strumming from Broussard.  Mid song he switches back to electric for a brief solo.

“I want to thank everybody who’s been involved,” Koffee told the crowd halfway through her show. “You have now become a part of my journey.”

The final song “W” is her latest single.  It’s a slower ballad.  I realize that she has a pretty heavy Jamaican accent but I really can’t tell how many times she says the letter W in the song.  It sounds lie a lot, but perhaps she’s rhyming it with something ele.

[READ: February 1, 2020] Rust Volume 0

Royden Lepp was born in the Canadian prairies which I’m sure had some impact on the design of this book–set in fields and farms and colored with sepia tone.

I saw this book series at the library and thought it looked really interesting.  Royden Lepp’s artistic style (and color palette) are really cool and the premise of a military weapon that looks like a little boy is pretty fascinating.

The book starts 48 years ago in the middle of a war.  Amid the human carnage there is a boy with goggles on.  He has on a jetpack and appears to be flying around saving people.  He saves them from a large robotic monster/creature which someone calls a kamikaze drone.

The first forty or so pages are almost wordless–its’ all battle sequences.  It is quite exciting, but it is also without question, a little confusing,   Especially since this a world that is not quite like ours.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WALE-Tiny Desk Concert #938/Tiny Desk Fest October 30, 2019 (January 21, 2020).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 30th was rap night featuring Wale.

Washington D.C. rapper Wale stands as one of the most distinctive figures in hip-hop today. More than 10 years ago, the man born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin created a local buzz in the D.C. area through a host of mixtapes showcasing his skills atop popular instrumentals. What separated him from the hundreds of hopeful MCs trying to make names for themselves online was his ability to fuse go-go music — D.C.’s homegrown spin on funk — with hip-hop.

I’m always amazed when I have never heard of someone who is objectively huge.  So Wale (whose name I didn’t know how to pronounce until he said it) is a hugely popular rapper.

In 2011, Wale joined forces with Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group and had a real breakout with “Lotus Flower Bomb,” the lead single from his sophomore album, Ambition. It went on to earn him a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song in 2013.

A native of the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area (or DMV), Wale’s calling card remains the rap ballad, a streak he continued on his 2019 album, Wow… That’s Crazy, which debuted at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top 200. It reveals a man more self-aware than ever, exposing flaws and struggles while keeping his self confidence fully intact.

One of the things I really like about Tiny Desk is hearing rappers performer with a live band.  In this case, the band is

Tre And The Ppl (formerly UCB). Tre is Wale’s right hand on stage and their effortless chemistry has been intact since the beginning.

Tre was founder of the go-go band UCB which almost succeeded in “introducing go-go’s hyper-local rhythms to the rest of the planet.”

Tre sings mostly choruses but some leads to Wale’s rapping.  And Tre sounds just like Aziz Ansari when he sings.  I guess Tom Haverford would have supported UCB back in the day.

What really struck me about Wale was his frankly astonishing ego for someone who is somewhat understated.  Things like

This is a big stage but luckily I’m a giant as well.

and

I’m at an important place in my career … and I got here because of this city.

He is full of love for D.C. (“don’t mute D.C.” he says at the end).  And when he introduces

“Lotus Flower Bomb” he says, “Have you heard of this before?  If you haven’t, you can leave now.”  He’s very funny, making amusing mellow jokes throughout the show.

This song is really pretty with gentle keyboards from Glenn Cobb and some quiet guitar licks from Stanley Thompson.

Wale asks, “Are you all allowed to clap in here? I saw Lizzo got you clappin'”

“LoveHate Thing” has a cool five-string bass line from Daniel Bennet that jumps to a funky middle section.  I love the addition of the percussion from Jerry Venable throughout all the songs.

Wale shouts out to D.C. and says, “I hope the Nationals win tonight.” (They won the world series that evening).

He says he wants to introduce “some of my b sides.”  The song “CC White” [Cocaine White] is “written in metaphor about something that plagued this city since the 80s.”

As the song starts he holds up a little Washington D.C. flag that he wants to “put here for aesthetics.”  The little flag won’t stand up after several tries.  He says, “I knew that wasn’t going to fit … that was a gag by the way.”

He takes a sip of tea and then says “how many of you think that’s tea in there?”

Up next is “Sexy Lady” which is sung by Tre and which Wale says “is one of the classic songs that came out in any genre.”  Tre encourages everyone to “feel free to dance if you want to.  Feel free to get close to each other if you want to.”  People sing along right from the start.  I enjoyed the dirty but not lyric

“I’m gonna pick you up on Saturday, maybe you can give me some whats her name.”

For this show, Wale gets more than three tracks,  He gets six, in fact.  The second to last song is “Sue Me”  which he says “is special to me.  I feel like I’m a next level person when I get to the last verse.”  I was pretty fascinated by his lyrics

Maybe ’cause I was searchin’, I found me the perfect person
But me and her didn’t work out, she buried what she worked for
And I carried the bitterness of a kola nut
Nigerian shit, my parents never showed much
Womanizer, probably could’ve been a feminist
‘Cause I respect ’em, but Lord, I got polygamy problems

But it’s the chorus that is so nice:

Sue me, l’m rootin’ for everybody that’s black

He also says “pro-black isn’t anti-white” which a lot of people forget.

There’s some cool guitar and keyboard soloing in this song some cool soloing.  And I like the open hi-hat sound that Eric Curry uses on this song and some others.

He ends the set by saying, “I got one of the biggest songs in the country right now so let’s get into it.”  Again, I’ve never heard of it, I guess the music world is horribly siloed.  Before the song starts he thanks the audience for their energy:

It’s not like a show live crazy turnt up energy.  It’s more like a I gotta get to work in the morning, I’m not as turnt up as you.  And maybe like some of my superiors are watching me so…  shout out to everybody with a Finsta who can show they here

For “On Chill” he encourages everyone “You ain’t gonna get in trouble for clapping for yourself.”

Wale really won me over by the end of this set.  I went from never having heard of him, to hoping for more success for him.  And I’m not the only older white guy to feel that way.

Wale‘s Seinfeld-inspired The Album About Nothing an extension of his 2008 The Mixtape About Nothing, marks the first time the comedian has featured on a Number One album.   You can hear about the 60-year-old comic’s unlikely friendship with the 30-year-old rapper and what attracted him to the Wale’s music in this NPR interview.

[READ: January 26, 2020] “You Will Never Be Forgotten”

This story starts out in a shocking way: “The rapist is such an inspiraton that he started a newsletter to share his story.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

The rapist chronicles his transformation from a nerdy ducking into the muscular entrepreneur swan he is today.

It turns out this newsletter began “as a motivational tool for his annual charity triathlon” but it is now a meditation on health, tech culture and “of course, pushing through limitations and not understanding the meaning of the word ‘no.'”

Then we see the whole story: “the woman has been following the rapist on social media since the rape, though her accounts don’t officially ‘follow’ the rapist.”

I love that the story  doesn’t let up on calling him what he is.

But I also loved that the story is about more than this.   For the woman works as a content moderator at the world’s most popular search engine, in a room with no windows or ventilation system. (more…)

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