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Archive for the ‘Threats’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A-WA-Tiny Desk Concert #886 (September 3, 2019).

I knew of A-WA and had seen them in a South X Lullaby this year.  But  that song was performed quietly, with just a guitarist.  This session is full band with all kinds of dancey accouterments.

Liron, Tair, and Tagel Haim [left to right] are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.  Their songs mix Yemenite and Arabic traditions with splashes of reggae and hip-hop.

These songs also have the lyrics translated at the bottom of the screen.  Since Bob says the songs are sad, I haven’t been reading too much, just enjoying the melodies [I’ll let Bob talk about the song in brackets]

The first song is “Habib Galbi” (“Love of My Heart”), [a heartbreaking song that went viral for A-WA in 2016].

I don’t know much of anything in the languages they are singing, but back in 1988 Israeli singer Ofra Haza released an album that I really liked and one of the great songs was “Galbi.”  So here it is again and it means “mt heart.”

‘Habib Galbi” opens with Middle Eastern melodies played on a synth (by Noam Havkin)–it’s a cool combination of traditional and modern almost futuristic.  It even has some electronic percussion (from Tal Cohen) and some great bass from Nitzan Eisenberg.  I love that there’s an occasional “Woo!” and lots of hand claps.  It is so dancey, how can it be heartbreaking?

 A-WA have recently released a second album, Bayti Fi Rasi (in Yemenite it means My Home is in My Head). The record tells the story of their grandmother traveling from Yemen to Israel.  The final two songs come from that recent album.

The second song “Al Asad” (“The Lion”) has the reggae feel in with the staccato guitar and a cool guitar solo from Yiftach Shachaf.  It “is a metaphorical tale of facing down a lion in your path.”

Once again, their movements and tone belie the story, as they move so almost sensually to the music as they sing (in fairness, it’s hard not to).

The last song “Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman,” (“Here is Not Yemen”) features some amazing rolling of r’s as they sing–I’m thinking it’s the word for “wheat.”  Once again, despite the music, this song

paints the struggles of coming to a new land, learning the language, finding work, a place to live and making it a home.

Although this song starts out more somber, as the song moves on it picks up a more danceable beat with more interesting synthy sounds.

I couldn’t help but be interested in the lyrics for this one with the way they sang “wheat” I had to find out what the rolled r word was.  This led me to see “Land of wheat and barely, grape and olive / fig, pomegranate date and home.”

And then further on:

Where will I stake a home? (You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack (along with four other families)
And here I will raise a family (Don’t let them take your daughter)
I’ll find myself a job with an income (either in cleaning or working the earth)
And I will learn the language (Lose the accent)
With time I’ll feel like I belong (Here is not Yemen).

Dang, draw me in with fun music and beautiful voices and then wow me with powerful lyrics.  Well done, A-WA.

[READ: September 3, 2019] Herbert’s Wormhole

We listened to this book on our summer road trip.  When I saw that it was a novel “in cartoons,” I decided to check out the print to see if it was any different as a story.

The cartoons certainly add to it. The drawings are done in a very stylized way (by Rohitash Rao).  The cartoons are indeed very cartoony but that befits a story about squid aliens who wear fake mustaches and toupees.

I’m glad I listened to the audio first because it was fun having the experience of hearing the Australian accents in my head while reading the text.  I’m sure I could have imagined the accents myself, but since Jonathan Davis did such a good job, it was nice having them in place.

The other interesting thing is how much I evidently missed during the listening (if you’re driving you have to pay attention to the world around you as well).  So the book version filled in some details that I clearly missed and a few things made a bit more sense.

The opening is fairly simple: Alex Filby is 11 years old and loves video games.  He is just about to defeat all the aliens in Alien Slayer 2 which is pretty great,.  Except he promised his parents that when he beat the game, he would stop playing video games for the summer and start playing outside.  So when he destroys the final alien, his parents tell him that they have set up a play date with the weird kid next store: Herbert Slewg. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Live from Gizzfest (December 1, 2018).

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are such a big deal in their native Australia, that they have created their own festival called, naturally, Gizzfest.  It began in 2015 as a touring festival with a dozen or so bands.  2018’s festival was only one day (in Melbourne) and some kind soul recorded it and posted the KGATLW set online.

The set lasted for about an hour and 40 minutes and touched on nearly every release.  It even included a few never before played live tracks from Eyes Like the Sky!

The recording quality isn’t great and you can hear a lot of people talking through the set.  It sounds like it might be pretty far away from the speakers as well.  Having said that, the music isn’t hard to hear (it’s not like it was recorded at a low level) it’s just not very clean.  Having said THAT, it’s not like KGATLW are an especially clean band, since they are often shrouded in fuzz, echo, distortion and more.

The songs are not chronologically played.  In fact, they start right in the middle with I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.  They play the first two tracks, “I’m in Your Mind” and “I’m Not in Your Mind” seamlessly together, including the nifty solos throughout “Not.”

But they do not play the third song (which segues on the album).  Rather, they jump right to Murder of the Universe with “The Balrog.”  It’s an intense start to the show and after a little breather they play the far slower and very delightful “Stressin'” from Oddments.  Unfortunately, the recording is very quiet and more muddy for this song.  Not sure what happened there.

But things get much louder very quickly, as they jump to their then newest album Gumboot Soup.  They play only one song from the record, the totally rocking “The Great Chain of Being.”  To much celebration, they jump into Polygonswannaland’s “Crumbling Castle.”  All the elements are there and they sound great playing it (even if the audio quality isn’t great).  The song segues perfectly into the album’s final track, “The Fourth Colour.”

After all of that rocking, they slow things down but stick with Polygondwannaland with the groovy “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” which segues into the middle section of that albums’s “Castle in the Air.”

Ambrose gets to the mic to say they’re gonna to do some silly stuff now.

“Dead-Beat” goes all the way back to their first EP, Willoughby’s Beach.  The really dumb lyrics “pull my finger and punch my face” are so much clearer here than on the album.  I wish I could hear if people are singing along.  Then they play a track from their first album 12 Bar Bruise “Cut Throat Boogie.”  This one is sung by Ambrose and features lots of his wailing harmonica.  Ambrose gets another lead vocal on another old-school one, Float Along–Fill Your Lung‘s “Let Me Mend the Past.”  It’s a respite of slower rock n roll with some nice piano accompaniment.

They play a surprising “Tezeta” from Mild High Club.  It’s slow and groovy with nice clear sound, although I can’t hear if there are any groovy backing vocals or not.

After these slower moments the band roars back with a wild “Rattlesnake” from Flying Microtonal Banana which whips the crowd into a sing-along frenzy.

And then they pause to introduce their special guest: Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s dad, Broderick Smith, writer and narrator of the Eyes Like the Sky album. Broderick does a great recitation and the band plays these rarely played Western songs perfectly: “Eyes Like the Sky,” “The Year of Our Lord” and “The Raid.”

They jump in with the opening to the jazzy wonderfulness of Quarters‘ “The River,” but they only play about 3 minutes of it, because as the band is quieting down during the slow bit (down down down) with the falsetto “a river” backing vocals, Stu starts singing the lyrics to “Wah Wah.”  For a few beats, the “a river” backing vocals continue, which is pretty cool.  “Wah Wah” rips louder and louder and as the song starts feedbacking out, the super fast drums of “Road Train” begin.  For this is the Nonagon Infinity portion of the show.    “Road Train” is the last song on Nonagon infinity so its fun that they do some nonagon infinity chants and then continue with “Robot Stop,” the first song of the infinite loop album.   It’s full of that spiraling guitar and wild harmonica solos.  But rather than seguing into the next song on the record they jump to the super catchy “Gamma Knife.”

The concert more or less ends with “Some Context,” the 46 second riff that’s a transitional piece on Murder.  That’s how they ended the show when I saw them.  It’s a great riff, too.  But they weren’t quite ready to end the show.

After some quiet, they began their 16 minute epic “Head On/Pill”  This version is certainly slower than the record, but it is still trippy.  It’s still got those soaring riffs and chanted vocals.  Things quiet down to almost a whisper around three minutes in, but by 4 minutes, the whole band kicks in for a truly rocking jam.  After nine minutes, they start a medley that begins with a rather quiet “Alter Me” which is more of a jam than the song.  Some more jamming leads to the opening of “Am I in Heaven?”  They end more or less with “Cellophane” which everyone can chant along to.

It’s basically a career spanning set in which they play songs from all of their fourteen releases (in FIVE YEARS), except for their folky Paper Mâché Dream Balloon.

Although the sound quality isn’t great, this is a fantastic show in front of a very happy hometown crowd.  When I saw them back in 2018 they focused primarily on the five albums they had released the year before with six songs from Murder of the Universe, 4 from Polygondwannaland, and 3 each  from Gumboot Soup and Flying Microtonal Banana.  I love that they can play such diverse sets–playing new songs for people who haven’t heard any of them and then playing a whole career’s worth for the locals.

How their sets can stay under two hours when they have that much music is still a mystery.  And yet no one leaves disappointed.

[READ: March 1, 2019] Spill Zone 2

I enjoyed Book 1 but I really didn’t like this part.  For some reason I thought this book had at least three parts.  But it seems that it has ended with book two which makes it all the more disappointing.

I didn’t even find the art to be evocative or charming.  It just felt kind of ugly an over the top.

As the book opens Addison goes to her art dealer and gets a million dollars. Of course she went to the buyer directly, cutting out the sketchy middleman.  And he is not happy about that, so he goes to the North Koreans with some information about Addison and her pictures.  Of course they have no time for bit players like him.

Meanwhile back in North Korea, Don Jae had entered the Spill Zone there and was having visions about the one in America.  He knew he had to go there.  He winds up visting the art buyer.  He gives her some of the radioactive dust so she can truly see what’s going on in the pictures she’s buying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SCOTT MULVAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #825 (February 18, 2019).

download (18)I had never heard of Scott Mulvahill.  And when I saw him with his big upright bass, I assumed he was a jazz guy.  But I was wrong.  And the reason I’d never heard of him?

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He’s always been one of our favorites, though he’s never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, “Begin Againers” in 2016 and though it wasn’t the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

“Begin Againers” is such a delightfully simple song–a cool upright bass melody that runs through the whole song (with an occasional flourish) and three voices.  Scott sings leads and he sounds like a fairly conventional old-school folk singer, but with a bit more punch.  He sings the lead and his two Jesse and Josh add some great harmonies. (who play guitar and keys).

There’s a bit of Jackson Browne [I was thinking James Taylor, but I think Browne is more accurate] in his voice and a bit of Paul Simon shows through in his self-reflective words.

When the song’s over he says, “That was the first song I ever sent into NPR and of course I wanted to play it behind this desk.  Isn’t it beautiful guys?”

For track two, “Gold Plated Lie,” Jesse and Josh switch to (guitar and keys) and two other guys come out to play drums and dobro [Terence Clark: drums; Gabe Scott: dobro].  With a full band, the music sounds fantastic.  The track opens with a zippy keyboard riff which everyone else soon joins in on.  There’s some cool ah ha has in the bridge and then a really stellar big chorus.  By the end the ah has turn into oh hos hos and and the catchy melody edges a bit sinister.  It’s fantastic.

Scott Mulvahill honed his craft touring with the great bluegrass mandolin player Ricky Skaggs. “Playing bluegrass with him is like playing jazz with Miles Davis,” Scott told the Tiny Desk crowd.

He says that it taught him to learn to write on the bass, which led to this new album.  For the title track “Himalayas,” it’s just him and his bass, and his bass writing is very cool.

For the final tune, the title track from his self-released and current album Himalayas, Scott Mulvahill goes solo, brings out a bow for that bass and we hear a spaciousness I don’t often find in the Nashville world he inhabits.

He bows the bass (playing some really deep and some really really high notes).   And when he starts singing, he plays harmonics and slaps the bass for percussion.  After slapping and singing for a bit, he starts bowing again, and even though the song doesn’t change, the new sound really changes the tone of everything.  I love the way he ends the song with such a high bass note.

[READ: February 7, 2019] The New Brighton Archeological Society: Book One

I was immediately attracted to this story because of the drawing style.  There was something really fascinating about these little kids with big heads, dressed like adults. And of course the title was really cool (especially given the fact that the kids has crossbows and there were goblins with them as well).

The story starts 50 years ago as an island stands up out of a lake and walks away.  On the island it looks like fairy marrying a goblin.

It jumps to 50 years later in Antarctica where four people are chasing a lone figure.  The lone figure pulls out a magic lamp with a genie in it.  He says a magic word and the people vanish. Then we cut to the children on the cover. Their parents were the ones who have gone missing (presumed dead) and now the kids are moving in with an older couple in a giant mansion.  Their relationship to the older couple is a bit vague, but they knew the kids’ parents too.

The kids acclimate well, playing together in the fields in all seasons . And then one day they happen upon clubhouse.  A clubhouse that clearly belonged to their parents. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Willoughby’s Beach (2011).

After releasing five new albums in 2017, KGATLW spent 2018 re-releasing their first five releases.  These were out of print and hard to find.  And now they’re back.

Back in 2011, KGATLW was more of a goofy side project (hence the name).  But they coalesced as a seven-piece band and proceeded to make an EP–Willoughby’s Beach.  At nine songs in about 25 minutes, this garage rock/dirty blues project pretty well flies past.  Lyrics are an afterthought (most songs repeat one line) and most of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes.  It is great zipping fun with fuzzy guitars, fuzzy harmonicas, fuzzy vocals and an all around DIY feel.

“Danger $$$” is a fast, crazy blues with a wild harmonica solo and the repeated shouted lyrics of “danger money” between lots of whoops and screams.  “Black Tooth” opens with a similarly fast riff but it immediately slows down into a slower but still rocking riff.  “Lunch Meat” is a crazy fast and catchy song with the full lyric: “They made me get up in the morning morning morning morning.”

“Let it Bleed” is the longest song on the disc at 3:14.  It’s slower and the repeated lyrics are far more comprehensible (I want to see my lover again).  The wonderfully titled “Crookedile” has a kind of a spy theme for its music dark with echoing squealing guitars and chanted vocals.  What “just say god is on your side, he’s on your side” has to do with the title I have no idea.  “Dead Beat” is also (relatively) long, but it is much faster with lots of whoops and a simple but addictive guitar line.

“Dusbtin Fletcher” is a fun punk song with lots of big backing vocals–like The Monkees doing punk.  Oohs and oh ho ohs make this an incredibly poppy song.  “Stoned Mullet” has two sets of lyrics: “jack it” and “green out.”  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s fast and catchy with a wonderful chorus.

“Willoughby’s Beach” is quick and catchy, a wonderful end to the disc.  The song is the definition of three-chord rock and features the lyric: “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”  Superb stuff.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Secret Coders: Monsters & Modules

This book ends the Secret Coders storyline.

It begins with the boys feeling very calm as they work out a code that will get them to travel to Flatland.  But Hopper doesn’t understand why they aren’t freaking out since as soon as they work out the code they will be travelling to a world with one fewer dimension!

Using a simple repeating code, the turtle makes the opening and they fall into the second dimension.  Eni turns into a square, Josh turns into a triangle and Hopper turns into a line!  And we learned in the previous books that lines (and women in general) were considered nothing.

They are immediately bothered by circles–the most superior shape in Flatland.  After some altercations, Josh and Eni are thrown in jail.  Hopper is able to hide because she is just a line and is therefore very hard to see. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION (“Field Recording” March 2, 2009).

Years before NPR created a category called “Field Recordings,” they were creating Field Recordings–“backstage” (or elsewhere) recordings of bands.  Most of these seem to happen at Music Festivals where musicians just seem to be hanging around anyway.

I have no idea how many of these there are.  In fact, the only reason I discovered this one is because there was a link to it from the Blood Orange Tiny Desk Concert.

Because it turns out that Devonté Hyness, the guy behind Blood Orange was once Dev Hynes, the guy behind Lightspeed Champion.

And so, eleven years ago, Lightspeed Champion played SXSW.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Austin, TX when Lightspeed Champion’s Dev Hynes and violinist Mike Siddell met with All Songs Considered’s Bob Boilen for this exclusive outdoor performance. Hynes and Siddell offered up an intimate little set as they ran through four songs, opening with “Tell Me What It’s Worth,” followed by “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” “Galaxy of the Lost” and an inspired cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu.”

For all four songs, it’s Dev on acoustic guitar and Mike on violin.  Like on “Tell Me What It’s Worth” Dev sings mostly quietly with his accent audible.  The violin adds sweet touches and occasional solos.

He introduces “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk” by saying that crunk is a musical genre that originated about two hours east of here.  Li’l John more or less started it and the queen of crunk is Sierra.  It features this amusing chorus (?)

my drawings are starting to suck
My best friends are all listening to crunk
i feel like the world’s gone crazy
…sometimes in the cold night my phone rings but it’s not you

“Galaxy of the Lost” is a slow pretty ballad with a lovely rising scale in the middle.

Finally comes his cover of “Xanadu” (a song I love).  The opening guitar sounds like “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and I love the way he resolves it into “Xanadu.”  The sprinkles of violin are a nice touch.

It’s pretty amazing how different this sounds from Blood Orange.  It’s an impressive development for an artist.

[READ: January 23, 2019] Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders 4 ended with a puzzle.  But I read it months ago, so I haven’t even thought about it since then.  In fact, I have conceded that I will not learn basic programming from this series, so I’m not even trying.  I could see, though, that if you were reading these in quick succession that it would be fun to learn how to do what they are doing and to try the tests.

When we last left our heroes they were being attacked by biting ducks (!).  They use their program skills and the hard-light-generating Light-Light to escape.  And they wind up in a room with all the people who have drunk the green soda.  Including Hopper’s dad.  What?

As they try to snap him out of the “green!” stupor he is in, Dr. One-Zero arrives with Paz.  Turns out Paz was double crossing the kids all along and now Dr. One-Zero has the hard light generator and has the kids trapped.  He’s that much closer to winning–and his final plan is pretty terrible. (more…)

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