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Archive for the ‘Unfinished series’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GAELYNN LEA-“I Wait” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

If you’re going to put together the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour — an epic night of Tiny Desk-style concerts, held at the wonderful Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW Tuesday night — you might as well kick things off with a core member of the Tiny Desk Family. Gaelynn Lea won 2016’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest with the barest of ingredients: a few swooping violin strokes, a loop pedal and her fragile-but-forceful voice.

At the Tiny Desk Family Hour, Lea performed in that same spare configuration. She closed with a powerful song called “I Wait,” which addresses the way people with disabilities — Lea herself has brittle bone disease, and works as a motivational speaker and teacher as well as a musician — are frequently left out of social justice movements. It’s Lea at her best, as her warm, intense, hauntingly beautiful voice is shot through with a clear sense of purpose.

This song is wonderful.  The looping is simple but effective–the notes are menacing and effective, while the unlooped pizzicato notes add just the right amount of rhythm to this otherwise sparse song.  For this song is all about the lyrics.  Lea details what it’s like to be handicapped–not in the world at large, but within protest movements which supposedly have her best intentions at heart.

So when you hear them
Make claims of progress
Take a good look
And see who isn’t there
We need a seat now
At the table
So please invite us
Or don’t pretend to care.

When Lea brought “I’ll Wait” to an abrupt close, the audience’s soft collective gasp gave way to the night’s first standing ovation.

It’s a stunning ending.

[READ: February 12, 2019] The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo #2

I really enjoyed the first book in this series and I’m happy to see the follow-up.

It opens with a recap from Charles Thompson, a future reporter (who uses a tiny reporter’s pad to write down his thoughts).  He talks about how he met Margo Maloo, the “Monster Mediator” and how with her help, he was able to locate and deal with a troll in his house.  And by “deal with” he means befriend.  For although Margo is a mediator between monsters and humans, she is mostly interested in the safety of the monsters.

Thompson has dozens of readers, he thinks, and maybe this is why Margo wants his help.

She will not be getting any help from Charles’ friend Kevin, who wants nothing to do with any monsters (unless they come in toy-form, like the Battle Beanz). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEG MYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #830 (March 6, 2019).

Meg Myers has a fascinating delivery–singing rather low on the first verse and then in a kind of falsetto on the second verse.  It’s kind of interesting but it seems at times like she’s mocking the lyrics or something.  But I love the music on the song.  I especially love the violin slide to the high notes at the end.

Apparently the instrumentation here is very different from the album.

Meg Myers put out one of 2018’s most intense and cathartic albums. Take Me to the Disco raged and threw sonic punches at anyone who’d ever attempted to use or abuse her, from former record executives to past lovers. Dressed in a sparkling blue leotard, Myers re-creates that fire and ferocity behind the Tiny Desk, replacing her album’s roaring electric guitars and electronics with a pulsing string quartet, piano and brushed drums.  [Jared Shavelson: drums, percussion; Josh Rheault: keys; Kristin Bakkegard: violin; Livy Amoruso: violin; Paul Bagley: viola; Carol Anne Bosco: cello].

But the most intense part of the performance is Myers herself. The distant, piercing looks she gives during the set’s opening cut, “Jealous Sea,” are unforgettable and unforgiving as she sings about a rat’s nest of feelings — anger, fear, jealousy, desire — over an ex. “Everything’s right, everything’s wrong / When you call my name,” she sings while half-hugging herself. “And I don’t think I can stop the jealousy / When it comes, it comes like waves and I can’t breathe.”

I am mixed on her delivery, but I like most of her lyrics.  I am fascinated by the imagery of “I don’t think I can stop the jealous sea, when it runs, it runs like lightning through my teeth.”

Myers follows with a searing version of what she calls “a very lovely, uplifting song” from Take Me to the Disco called “Tear Me to Pieces,” a frenzied takedown of liars, buried secrets and “wicked temptations.”

In the middle of “Tear Me to Pieces,” she sings “it’s in your eye,s you fucking liar” which she sings in what I assume is her normal voice.  And she sounds so powerful and clear there that I rather wish she sang more like that.   I wonder if all of these vocals styles sound different with guitars.  Because by the end, her yelling seems a bit out of tune.

She takes a little break before the final song because she played last night.  While she’s rehydrating, she talks about the next song, a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

She then dials back the fury and indignation to close with a surprising version of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. Myers is a longtime fan, and often gets compared to the British singer. But Myers tells the audience she fell in love with the song for its meaning. “It’s about men and women and the differences between them, and learning to have empathy for each other.”

At first I wasn’t too keen on her version–again, her vocal delivery seemed really wrong for this song.  But as she was singing–and singing the lyrics so clearly, I started to really appreciate the way she was performing it.  So I’m overall mixed on her.  I wanted to like her more than I did.

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part two, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home.  But they need the help of that weirdo frog character named Van.  Van shows them the city where he lives.  And it is incredible. So many people, so many colors, and the dams are all automated.  But when they get down into the city, it is just fill of smog,.. so much smog that they need to wear masks.  Van gets ahead of them and they lost him, but everyone speaks a different language and it’s hard for them to find anything.

After wandering around looking for Van, Pig spies the ancient symbol of damkeepers.  He remembers back to his father saying it’s a symbol of the damkeepers’ promise to protect the city–they sacrifice for a greater cause. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ZAYTOVEN-Tiny Desk Concert #828 (February 28, 2019).

I saw Zaytoven on the Gucci Mane Tiny Desk Concert and thought he was a good performer.  I didn’t expect that he woul det his own show.  So I wasn’t expecting all that much, but man, this is awesome.  And then I read why this show is the way it is:

Last month, Zaytoven arrived at Bob Boilen’s desk with a full band in tow with the intent of backing up his Atlanta friend and collaborator Future, who had dropped his latest album, The Wzrd, earlier that day. The plan was to translate the bass-heavy trap sound Zaytoven helped originate to real instruments with Neil Garrard on guitar, Bernard “TreWay” Lambert on drums, DJ Spinz and Elena on flute (for what would’ve been a live version of “Mask Off”).

So instead, we get this beautiful instrumental collection.  There’s three tracks that are kind of jazzy, but not exactly.  They’re pretty melodies with some great solo work from the electric guitar and lots and lots of flute.   The drums from Bernard “TreWay” Lambert are a mix of traditional and electric (with great sounds) and some nifty scratching from DJ Spinz.

Track one “Lay Up” has a ripping distortion-filled guitar solo from Neil Garrard.  But man, the real killer is the flute work.  It’s so effortlessly beautiful the way it floats around the song.  Elena Pinderhughes is just dynamite on this song and every one.

Introducing “Peacoat,” he says it feels it like jazz.  He also says he still plays the organ in church on Sundays and that he wants all of his songs to have soul.

“I wasn’t even allowed to listen to this type of music, let alone to be producing it,” he told me a little over a year ago in the church outside Atlanta where he plays organ every Sunday morning. He was remembering how conflicted he’d once felt as a young producer who’d grown up in the church to be playing his trade for street artists like future trap god Gucci Mane (who Zaytoven would later back on keys during his first visit to the Tiny Desk). “To be the godfather of the sound, it was almost embarrassing for me, like, ‘Hold on, bruh. This ain’t really how I was brought up. This ain’t really what I do.’ I’m a guy that’s in the church and I try to lead people more so that way.”

There’s some pretty piano and keyboards form Zaytoven on this song, and I like the subtle scratching throughout.

The final song “Mo Reala” is also great.  He says it’s got a church vibe.  It was his first single from the album with Future saying real things.  He’d ben producing since 2004, but Future helped him refine his piano work and his beats.  In addition to the great song itself, the flute and guitar solos are fantastic.  And again, I love the drums and scratching too.

I listened to the track with Future’s vocals on it and I didn’t like it half as much.

Zaytoven, if you read this, you should absolutely get this band together and record these songs just like this as instrumentals.  They are dynamite!  And no one is releasing music like this right now.  Get on it, man!

[READ: February 26, 2019] Cucumber Quest 4

Reading book 4 means that I am now caught up with the books that are currently out.  And that is terrible, because the series suddenly got really intense and really emotional.  And who knows how long I’ll have to wait until the next book!

When I first started this series, which is kind of a spoof on hero quests, I enjoyed it.  It made me laugh and had lots of funny and absurd twists.  I never expected to get so invested in the story of the Nightmare Knight and his explanation for why he is such a bad guy.

But back to our heroes.

When they arrive in the Flower Kingdom, they are given the terrible news that the Kingdom does not have a Princess (our heroes need Princesses to sign a sword as art of their quest). What will they do? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Murder of the Universe (2017)

Every KGATLW album is different.  Including this one.  Murder of the Universe is their second album of 2017.  It is narrative concept album split into three separate stories, each containing elements of spoken word to carry a narrative. The first two chapters feature Leah Senior’s narration, while NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech application narrates the final chapter.  And it totally rocks.  There’s great riff, distorted guitars and harmonicas and lots of whooping vocals.

There are, essentially three stories on this disc.  The first chapter, The Tale of the Altered Beast, is about a human who stumbles on a mystical human/beast hybrid.  The narration is quite long and deadpan and tells a fairly complex story, which starts:

As soon as the dust settles, you can see
A new world in place of where the old one had been
Your skin is crawling with dry, crusted mud
And your naked feet are wet in a pool of blood
And the whistle of the wind in your ears is so loud
That your memories have blown up in a mushroom cloud
And as your eyes accommodate
There appears by the meadow
A brute like a bear with a long, dark shadow
And you violently shake over what you have seen
As you remember the tale of the Altered Beast

Nearly each of the nine tracks has narration interspersed with singing.  There’s a lot of repeated sections, but more as a thematic choice rather than as repetition.  The titles of the songs are indicative of this: Altered Beast I, II, III and IV and Alter Me I, II and III.  But those parts are not simply repeats.  Rather, they allude to each other with repeated riffs and words.  But even though parts are repeated there are plenty of original riffs throughout.

The third part of “Alter Me” has a cool 80’s sci-fi keyboard sound, which works perfectly before the noisy harmonica returns.

The “Altered Beast” story is the longest part of the story at 19 minutes.  And the final “Altered Beast” part has a very nifty fast section that I believe is in 11/4.

The last track “Life/Death” is very different–keyboard-fueled and almost poppy sounding, this final minute of the story is not a happy one.

The second chapter, The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, focuses on a battle between the forces of light of darkness.   And the segue between the two, called “Some Context” references “People-Vultures” from Nonagon Infinity.

It opens with guitarist Joey Walker’s Mongolian throat singing behind the narration on some of the tracks.  This adds an extra sense of ominousness to the story.

So the main story is a battle between The Lord of Lightning and Balrog and  they each get a song:

When the songs proper start, “The Lord of Lightning’s” theme is somewhat proggy with all kinds of ostinato (to use a term form the narration).  In addition to keyboard parts and some heavy rocking parts, there’s a callback to the chorus of “Nonagon Infinity.”  The music for this chapter is very complicated with fits and starts and various drum lines.

While the interstitials in the first chapter were done with an interesting guitar riff, the interstitials in this part come with a fast rumbling bass line.  “Balrog” has a lot of chanting befits a KGATLW song.

The war comes to a head in the Floating Fire which has more throat singing and a martial beat and its aftermath “The Acrid Corpse” … but which one is the corpse?

The third and final chapter, Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg in a digital world who gains consciousness and decides to strive only for what a cyborg cannot do: vomit and die.  How very King Gizzard.  There’s a lot about vomit in this song. Maybe it was just fun hearing the robotic voice say vomit?

He decides to create a creature dubbed the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” whose only purpose is to vomit. When the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which causes it to lose control. This machine explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe: and so the universe is murdered.

It opens with keyboard swirls, like the opening credits a sci-fi soap opera

This is a much heavier bunch of songs, like the thumping (with extra drums) on “Digital Black.”  Over a futuristic keyboard section Han-Tyumi recites his problem:

I am bereft of two human things
Two things that a cyborg can never do
Two things that I strive for
Two things between myself and mankind
Death
And
To vomit

This story is bonkers.  But it totally rocks and it leads to the really catchy song (which they played live when I saw them called, what else, “Vomit Coffin.”  The final song is a tour de force of instrumental power while HanTyumi talks of vomiting and getting bigger and bigger until he destroys the universe.  Gross and hilarious and totally rocking.  Destroying the Universe never sounded so good.

[READ: February 28, 2019] Castle in the Stars 2

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

Part two continues with the beautiful look of his book.  I am really fascinated at the way these characters can look at time cartoonish and at times almost photo-realistic (in soft focus).

At the end of the last book our team escaped from certain danger by jumping aboard an aethership.  The crew is Seraphin (whose mother has been lost in the aether when she took a ship there and never returned), Seraphim’s father as well as Seraphim’s friend Sophie (a girl!) and her half-brother Hans (the very cartoony looking character). They are joined by King Ludwig whom we are told at the begiinning of the story just wanted to leave everything behind. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NATALIE PRASS-Tiny Desk Concert #827 (February 25, 2019).

I know Natalie Prass because “Short Court Style” was absolutely ubiquitous.  WXPN overplayed this song to death this summer.  At first I didn’t think much of it and then it clicked and I loved it.  The bassline is fantastic and the vocals are just amazing.  I was genuinely surprised to find out that Natalie Prass was white, because she sounded so soulful.

I genuinely had no idea who she was, so I was surprised that the accolades were so effusive and people spoke of her as if she were a legend.  Well, this is only her second album, but it really struck a nerve.

Full disclosure: We here at NPR Music have decreed Natalie Prass something of a patron saint for roséwave — our groove-laden, pink drink-soaked soundtrack for the summer. So, when the Richmond, Va. artist arrived at the Tiny Desk, it was a cause for celebration, especially amid the January blues that seemed to permeate the NPR Music office. Decked out in matching, cobalt blue outfits (with a matching keyboard stand to boot), Prass and her backing band, comprised of Eric Slick: drums; Alan Parker: guitar; Jacob Ungerleider: keys; and Brandon Lane: bass, seemed to bring a warm breeze in with them.

“Oh My” opens with a thumping bass.  When the picture appears, everyone is wearing electric blue.  The song is very funky and Natalie does a great job with her little interjections of “No,” “hey,” “oh ho ho ho” and the titular “Oh My.”  There’s a funky bass solo midsong.  And throughout, Natalie is just so cool.

I didn’t really get a sense of the lyrics so I was surprised to read this:

There’s a sly political bent to Prass’ 2018 album, The Future and the Past. Ahead of its release, she said she actually had a different album nearly finished, but scrapped a huge chunk of it after [trump’s] election, which in turn led her to make this album instead. She highlights this mission statement on the album opener — and first song she performed at the desk — “Oh My.” It’s a track that speaks pointedly about the abject feeling of horror and exhaustion that seeps in when you tune into the news cycle, with bleak lyrics set against bright, dance-y music.

For “Short Court Style” (I always assumed it was called “Round and Round”), she brings out her backing singers, Angelica Garcia and Kenneka Cook: vocals.  Everything sounds fantastic here live.  She seems so free and easy singing this song, it’s a delight to watch her.  And those funky bass lines are great.

Before closing with “Hot for the Mountain,” Prass tells the NPR office that “the song’s a little off the beaten path, but, I don’t know, it’s my favorite.” “We’ll take you on / We can take you on,” Prass, Garcia and Cook sing in unison, a refrain that resounds emphatically. Her vision was clear: If you want to overcome the times, find strength in numbers.

I don’t see what’s so odd about it.  It doesn’t have a big hook like the other two songs, but there is a sing along chorus.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Cucumber Quest 3

Book three opens as our heroes arrive at Trebleopolis which is celebrating its birthday (clowns are everywhere).  And no one celebrates louder than Queen Cymbal.  She reveals that Princess Piano is going to perform a concert.  All our heroes want is the Princess’ signature on their sword (she has signed weirder things), but they are told they have to wait until after the show.  (It’s 110 minutes long…that’s like MORE than an hour).

But as the curtain opens, it’s not Princess Piano, but Noisemaker who comes out.  Noisemaster is a hiphop DJ who is not only annoying but quite evil.  For he is one of Nightmare Knight’s Disaster Masters and our heroes’ next conquest.  Nightmare Knight makes an early appearance and is not playin’ with Noisemaster’s shtick: “I cannot believe you are still acting like this…  I am being exceedingly ‘real’ Noisematser.”   He ends, I will allow you this chance to prove yourself  Do not waste it.

Noisemaster’s plan is to destroy the whole city if the noise machine hits 100%.  And with Piano’s loud voice that should be no problem.

We learn that the Melody Kingdom was divided by two kings King Treble and King Bass. They fought and had to be separated by a wall which the Oracle created.   The two sides have not seen each other in decades.  The wall, named Mezzo is very chill and tells them exactly the kind of convoluted quest they need to go on to get the key to open the doors in the wall.  Of course Almond and Carrot are right on that quest and they take off. (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: 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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