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SOUNDTRACK: SKINNY LISTER-Tiny Desk Concert #286 (July 8, 2013).

I had never heard of Skinny Lister.  And that’s kind of a surprise because their music fits right in with the group folk rock of bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers–they could be huge!.  Back in 2013, they were a newish band and Bob Boilen explains where he first heard them.

I was coming back to my hotel during SXSW 2013 in hopes of grabbing a short nap when I saw Lorna Thomas winning the hearts of a gathering crowd with her flirtatious, cheer-me-up style of singing and dancing. Then my eyes and ears found a punkish band with accordion, upright bass, guitars, and vocals from Dan Heptinstall. I couldn’t leave, I never napped, and I fell head over clicking heels for their reels and jigs and whatever else they tossed our way.

When it was done, I shook their hands, gave them high-fives and hugs, and handed them my card. Months later, they showed up at my desk early in the day bearing lots of beer, some mysterious alcohol in an even-more-mysterious jug, and an assortment of instruments. After watching this Tiny Desk Concert, when you’re ready for more and you can’t find Skinny Lister playing your local pub, you can check out its debut album, Forge & Flagon — it’ll tide you over until the band makes it back to your town.

As the set opens, Lorna Thomas has a giant flagon of that mysterious liquid.  She explains, that it is a flagon and that she learned the proper technique of drinking it over the shoulder.  Which she demonstrates to us.  Although she can’t “play” it.  But that’s where their album title The Forge & Flagon comes from.  They play three songs which really showcases their range.

“Trawlerman” is a rollicking fun song with lots of bawdy singing.  It’s a party atmosphere with a really fun rowdy chorus of “haul away haul away.”  After the song, Lorna drinks from a bottle of beer (which is almost empty).  remember this is like 10AM.

“Colours” drops the tempo down a bit.  It is a mellow but pretty song.  It’s a song about the sun coming out–something that doesn’t happen very often [in England] but when it does we have to cherish it and then write songs about it. The accordion player (it’s actually a melodeon) switches to a mandolin.  The song builds to a fun conclusion with the mandolin shouting “here we go!” as the end takes off on a chorus of “flash before us.”

“Rollin’ Over” continues that wild rollicking vibe.  I love that it starts with raucous guitar playing and then a cool melodeon riff to start out,  This is a fast peppy song with an infectious chorus.

I fins it interesting that the guys are dressed kind of town—sleeveless shirts and sleeveless denim jackets (the bassist is covered in tattoos) and yet Lorna is in a very pretty dress.  As the concert ends, she takes a swig from the jug straight on and says “that’s the other way to do it.”

I was trying to figure out just who was in this band.  But there were personnel changes aright around this show.  The only people I’m pretty sure of are

  • Dan Heptinstall – lead vocals, guitar, and stomp box (July 2009–present)
  • Max Thomas – melodeon, mandolin and vocals (July 2009–present)
  • Lorna Thomas – vocals (July 2009–present)
    • Then I’m sorta sure:
  • Sam “Mule” Brace – guitar, concertina, vocals
  • Michael Camino – double bass and vocals

Then, according to the Wikipedia site in the fall after this show they added a drummer, but honestly I’m not sure they need it, as their guitar playing is already percussive (what with that stomp box and all)

[READ: April 17, 2016] The Oopsatorium

I love Shaun Tan. His works are funny and often absurd.  And his drawing style is consistently fantastic,

When I saw this book at work, I was immediately struck by the great name.  And when I saw that underneath the title it said Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, I assumed that this was going to be a hilarious collection of failed inventions.

And it is, sort of.

Tan has created a book which melds truth and fiction.  The Powerhouse Museum is real.  The inventions in the book are actually in the museum, (there are photos of a dozen or so cool contraptions).  However, Mintox, a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor and author of the never published Eat, Pray, Invent, is fictional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATT ULERY’S LOOM-Tiny Desk Concert #312 (October 19, 2013).

When a jazz band (or really any band) is named after a person, it’s always fun to try to guess who that person is in the band.  The first song “Coriander”  starts out with some trumpet notes and a kind of intro melody that’s played by both the sax and the trumpet.  And then about a minute and a half in, the keyboards take over, with a great cool 70s jazz/funk sound (the keys sound is my favorite part of this band).  And then of course behind all of this is the constancy of the drummer and the upright bass.  So, which one is Ulery?

I never would have guessed that he’s he bassist.  For his job in this band is basically to hold everything together.  The horns are doing their own thing, the drummer is doing all kinds of cool syncopated jazz beats. And the keys are just soloing like mad.  I don’t know if it’s because the bass isn’t very loud in the mix (it’s really isn’t), but his presence is almost not really there.  At the 4 minute mark of “Coriander,” the whole band drops away and the keys pick up a cool riff and then the horns chime in and eventually the bass comes back in.  I think he’s just not loud enough because watching him, it sure looks like he’s doing a lot more than what I hear.  And yet he’s never flashy.  As I say, he’s the ground, not the star.

When he speaks he’s rather quiet as well.  He says he loves NPR and gives a shout-out to his local Chicago station WBEZ.

Then they launch into the second song “My Favorite Stranger”  in which the keyboardist has now switched to accordion (a pretty pearly white and red affair).  I really like when the bass clarinet takes over the melody for a bit.  The accordion acts like drone with the trumpet taking most of the leads (although I love when the bass clarinet gets to run those same leads as well).

And for some background on Ulery:

The Chicago bassist Matt Ulery writes beautiful music in an unpretentious way. It’s intricate stuff, with interlocking parts and segmented structures. It often borrows from Eastern European scales, orchestral tone colors, folky textures. (On his backpack, he sports a SXSW patch from when he toured with a rock band called In Tall Buildings.) But it doesn’t sound like calculus class, as in some other ambitious works of modern jazz. It never seems to stray too far away from pretty melody over undulating rhythms, and that deceptive simplicity sets it apart.

Last year Ulery put out a grand two-disc set of music you might call “chamber jazz.” By A Little Light had strings, orchestral horns and singers — the whole nine yards. But he has also long done lavish on a smaller scale with a band called Loom. A rejiggered quintet lineup (note: Matt Ulery, bass; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Geof Bradfield, bass clarinet; Rob Clearfield, keyboards/accordion; Jon Dietemyer, drums) produced this year’s Wake An Echo, which the band brought to our office during a brief summer tour.

[READ: December 14, 2014] Tetris

I really enjoyed Box Brown’s take on Andre the Giant.  I really wasn’t sure what a book about Tetris could contain.  I mean, I love the game, but what’s there to say about it?  Well, it turns out, quite a lot–250 pages worth, in fact.

Beyond the game itself, Brown talks a bit about the history of video game development, including a bit of the history of Nintendo. But then he gets into what happened when people started to get addicted to those little falling blocks.  Who knew that Tetris had such a convoluted history?

The book starts off (in Brown’s wonderfully simple drawing style) with a picture of Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris and his friend Vladimir Pokhilo.  Alexey says he has been thinking about the pentomino puzzle. (more…)

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crocs SOUNDTRACKRED BARAAT-Tiny Desk #194 (February 14, 2012).

redbaraatBob Boilen opens his blurb about this band with high praise indeed:

Red Baraat is the best party band I’ve seen in years. The group plays rollicking funk music steeped in Northern India’s wedding celebrations, with a dash of D.C. go-go beats and hip-hop. It’s all driven by Sunny Jain’s dhol, a double-sided barrel drum that hangs down low around his body.

But the music is not all about drumming

If the drum is the messenger, the brass is the message. Uplifting melodies emanate from baritone and soprano saxophones, bass trumpet, trombone and sousaphone. This is a band that jazz lovers can appreciate and rock fans can dance to.

They play three songs.  And the musicians are quite diverse.  Its fun to see a trumpeter (who totally wails) wearing a Sikh turban.

“Chaal Baby”  is really dancey with a simple, bouncy horn melody and all that percussion. In addition to the snare and the dhol, there’ s a percussionist making some great sounds, too.  And all through the song–which really swings–people are shouting “hey ho.” It’s a lot of fun.

“Shruggy Ji” opens slowly but after a few second the whole band kicks in with a kind of minor key feel (and a very Indian sound on the saxophone.  There’s some chanting–although I can’t tell what they’re saying.  The two note melody is great for shaking your hips to.  In the middle of the song there’s a call and response of “oh my may” and then he raps—he’s a little hard to hear (because he’s unmic’d and the rest of the band is so loud) but the gist is there and it’s fun (I believe he name checks Biz Markee).  As this song ends you hear Stephen Thomson shout “can you guys hear in the back?”

On “Dhol ‘n’ Brass” the guy with the dhol opens this song with a fast chanted opening that sounds a lot like the rhythm of the drums.  When the rest of the band jumps in, the song is really fast and a lot of fun

This is indeed a great party band and there’s plenty of diversity in the music to keep it really interesting and unexpected.

[READ: February 1, 2016] The Croc Ate My Homework

I knew of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine but had never read it before.

This book was published by the same folks who introduced me to Liō and I thought it might be funny.

From what I gather, this collection is actually a collection of the most kid-friendly strips from this series.  This I find very strange indeed, but I see that the actual strip is fairly adult and has been controversial on my occasions (although it is published in newspapers, so it’s never too dark).

I got a kick out of this collection, although I didn’t think it was all that great.  Of course, knowing that these strips are the somewhat watered down strips does make me want to read the real thing to see if these strips ware funnier in context.

The strip centers around a bunch of animals Rat (who is mean–unnecessarily mean, I felt, in this book, but again, without context), Pig who is a good-natured but naive. The Crocs (who are incredibly dumb–and very funny) and the Zebra who outsmarts the crocs–although that’s not very hard. (more…)

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 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.

(more…)

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1999 SOUNDTRACK: JANE BUNNETT AND MAQUEQUE-Tiny Desk Concert #547 (July 12, 2016).

bunnettJane Bunnett is a soprano saxophonist and flautist from Toronto who performs largely with Cuban musicians.  She has been traveling there for about 30 years and has performed with all kinds of musicians.  For this Tiny Desk and her current she is playing with the women from Cuba in a band called Maqueque (they won a Juno award last year).

And they sound great together.  It’s interesting that Bunnett takes something of a back seat (or position anyhow) to singer Melvis Santa (who seems to mostly sing sounds (ah ah ahs, bop bop bah dah dahs, as opposed to words) .  But when it’s time to shine, Bunnett is there to impress everyone with her skill.

Felix Contreras says “If you want to hear what Cuba sounds like today, then be sure to listen.”

“Little Feet” features Bunnett playing a cool solo on her sax and Santa singing notes along with her.  But for this song Bunnett really wails.  (she’s quite winded by the end).

Of the three songs, the ten minute “Maqueque” is my favorite.  That’s in part because I don’t really like the sound of the soprano sax (she plays flute on this one) but also because the band membranes really get to show off their chops.  It starts with a simple piano melody and pretty vocals.  Then Bunnett plays the melody on the flute as Santa sings along.   When Bunnett gets her solo on, you can hear her vocalising a bit as she plays the flute.

After the song Bunnett says that women in Cuba don’t get the exposure they deserve, so she picked these woman to let the world hear them.

About 4 minutes in Dánae Olano plays an amazing 2 minute piano solo–fun to listen to and to watch as she is all over the keys–she plays  some great trills and riffs.  She’s very impressive.  About 8 minutes in Yissy Garcia (who Dave Matthews has said plays drums like Jesus) plays a great drum solo.  On the drum kit she is using her palms and fingers to play all of the drums and cymbals–she switches to sticks at the end. The percussionist Magdelys Savigne accompanies her, and while not actually soloing, she is keeping rhythm as well.

Celia Jiménez plays bass.  She doesn’t get to do anything fancy–no solos, but she keeps the rhythm perfect.

bunnett2“25 New Moves” has Bunnett back on sax with Santa singing along to her melody.  It’s a short (4 minute) catchy piece with another cool fast solo from piano and a few cool bass lines as well.

It’s a pretty great set with lot of cool jazzy Cuban melody and rhythms.  I enjoyed this set quite a lot.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000

This is the final volume of Peanuts strips. After 50 years, it finally came to and end.

Schulz was diagnosed with cancer in 1999.  He died in February of 2000.

I was hoping that this book would be shockingly good–full of great “I’m finishing the trip” closure.  But as I understand it, he wasn’t ready to finish the strip, so things move on more as less as normal.

In fact, I found the first few weeks of 1999 to be kind of dull.  The punchlines just didn’t make me smile as much.  Of course there is something to be said for the consistency of the strip.  Linus still has his blanket, Rerun is still coloring (he has become a dominant force in the strip), Patty is still getting things wrong and Sally still doesn’t want to do anything. (more…)

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kickass2 SOUNDTRACK: DEQN SUE-Tiny Desk #476 (October 5, 2015).

deqnDeqn Sue and her producer Kelvin Wooten play three songs at this Tiny Desk Concert.  And although she is the name and voice of the set, I’m more impressed by him.  He is sitting in front of a keyboard, holding a bass guitar.  He plays the bass, loops it and then plays it live again.  While the bass is looping he;s playing keyboards and all the while there’s percussion and other sounds that he’s programmed.

NPR had played “Bloody Monster” a while back.  It’s a wonderful kiss off song about a person that she thought was a friend until she called her “nigger” (which is addressed in the second verse).  The chorus is surprisingly poppy:  “Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, you’re a crazy bitch.  I don’t even like that word, but for you I think it fits.”  It’s fun and bouncy.

The second song is “Flame.”  She says it’s the only song she’s written about love–most of her songs are more socially aware.  It’s got a cool bass line, although I don’t like her voice on this song.  She seems to sing better when it’s louder and faster.

“Magenta” is the first song they wrote together.  She explains that magenta is about the color you feel when you’re not specifically one: you’re not pissed, so you’re not red, you’re not sad so you’re not blue and you’re not scared so you’re not yellow.  You’re a mixture–magenta.  Each verse starts with her singing “I am a color” in a deep distorted voice.  It’s pretty cool.  The song is interesting and has some cool ideas in it.

Overall though I’m not all that impressed by her.  I feel like she’s close to being amazing, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

[READ: February 1, 2016] Kick-Ass 2

This book picks up right where the last one left off.

Hit Girl is still training Kick Ass (and beating the crap out of him), but she might have to give up.  Her mom is really fragile right now and if something happened to her, it would kill her mom.

And then we see that Red Mist has returned and set up a superhero brawl in Manhattan streets.  But that’s coming in the near future. The rest backtracks a bit.

Dave has joined a superhero gang–like a real-life X-Men called Justice Forever.  He is friends with a guy named Doctor Gravity (who claims that he has made a pole that can increase gravity (actually it’s a baseball bat wrapped in tinfoil). (more…)

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preludeSOUNDTRACK: BEAUTY PILL-Tiny Desk Concert #481 (October 23, 2015).

beauty-pill Beauty Pill is an unusual band.  They seem fairly conventional–guitars, baas and drums.  But they also feature a strange light up computer device (which is called a Monome) that is a sort of looping sampler trigger.  The samples are weird and unexpected and the music plays off of that–at times lurching and bouncing, at times playing smooth and conventional.

I love the crazy funky vibes as the first song “Afrikaner Barista” begins.  There’s interesting samples and a cool riff.  The song feels “assembled.”  And I was really excited to see where it would go.  But I really didn’t like the singer/speaker’s voice in his delivery of the verses.  It’s a little too unemphatic–it’s neither loud nor weird not even excessively deadpan.  It’s just kind of bland.  The chorus is cool though, and his delivery works because there are harmony vocals to accompany him.

I also like his sort of distorted guitar solo.  Mostly though, it’s fascinating watching Jean Cook play her Monome, watching her push buttons that light up and produce diverse sounds.  The drums are also great–complex and dynamic.

In all of the songs, there’ a lot of repeating of lyrics–almost like a mantra.  This song repeats, “I want to be the one you like.”  I’m not even clear if the words mean anything.  Even the title “Afrikaner Barista” is fun to say but I don’t know if its meaningful.

“Drapetomania!” is introduced as a dark song although the singer, Chad Clark, thinks it resembles the Fat Albert theme song.  He says it’s about the suburbs.  When the song begins, it has a kind a of creepy circus quality to it and it opens with the dramatic line, “I want more life, fucker!”  There’s some fun lyrics in this song like “Morning Ralph, Morning Sam” (referencing the Bugs Bunny cartoons).  Or “The neighbor’s wifi’s called “magic negro” now / I am gonna burn his house down, if I may.”  And this great line: “deep in the heart of wildest Caucasia.”

The middle has a breakdown that’s lot of fun as the samples continue to play with all sorts of things, including, I believe, Clark’s voice.

The final song is called “Exit Without Saving” which he says is “either a Microsoft Word document or a situation where you feel trapped,”  I like the riff of this one and the samples too. There’s more great lyrics like “a five ton mastodon frozen in mid-snarl in a ten ton cube of ice, says I don’t know how I got in here but if I get out it ain’t gonna happen twice.”  There’s a repeated refrain of “you recognize that this is noise, right?”

It’s not always clear what he’s on about, but it’s fun to listen to them.

There’s so much about this band that I like but I feel like there’s just something missing–either in the voice or maybe that the samples and sounds need to be a little more prominent?  I’m curious to see what these guys do next though.

[READ: February 14, 2016] Kick-Ass 2: Prelude

This book is a sequel to Kick-Ass and a prequel to Kick-Ass 2.  It focuses on Hit Girl, but not her childhood (which we saw in Kick Ass).  Rather, it follows her in the days following the events of the first book.

We see that Hit Girl, Mindy McCready, is at home with her mom and her stepfather.  Her mom has calmed down (she has been quite hysterical lately) and her stepdad, Marcus, is a policeman trying to keep things orderly.  He knows about Mindy’s secret identity (he knows all about what kind of upbringing she had as well) and he wants her to stop the superheroing.  But overall, he is pretty cool.

We see Mindy at School (Kick Ass if there too, of course).  No matter how tough Mindy is when she has her costume on, she is still a little girl and she is crushed by the mean girls in school.  And so Mindy makes a deal–she’ll teach Kick Ass to actually fight and be a real superhero (as much as she is) if he’ll teach her to be normal. (more…)

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