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Archive for the ‘Witches’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAMES ELKINGTON-“Black Moon” (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.

Elkington is the first person on this compilation I didn’t know.

He plays an absolutely gorgeous, complicated guitar melody to open the song.  I am mesmerized by how lovely it is.  It’s actually so much different from the original–which has a subdued guitar opening–that i didn’t recognize the song at first.

Elkington sings in a quiet, hushed voice through the verses which continue that beautiful guitar melody and add percussion.

When the chorus kicks in with organs and a great electric guitar slide it become catchy just like the original (possibly more so).  But as the chorus dissolves into the verse, the electric guitar soars throughout while the acoustic picked guitar resumes the beauty.

What a wonderful cover and what a fantastic guitar player.

[READ: February 15, 2020] The Hidden Witch

After finishing The Witch Boy, I was really happy to see that we also had the second book in this trilogy, The Hidden Witch.

This book picks up right where the last one left off, although this one includes a map of the area, so we can see how close Aster’s house is to the main town (and the school).

The book opens in with witchcraft class.  Aster is there with the girls (who are looking at him funny).  He is far behind but his Aunt Iris doesn’t seem too happy about the fact that he is in the class.

Aster’s grandmother agrees to teach him if he will help her.  Her special request is to try to save her brother Mikasi–the creature from the previous book who they have trapped.  She believes that because Aster also had an inkling for witchcraft that he could possibly speak to the Mikasi within the beast.

Then we switch to Sterling Junior High where Charlie is showing off that her leg is no longer broken.  But there’s  new girl in school now.  Her name is Ariel and she seems very dark–thick eyeliner, dark clothes, etc,

This is one more reason why I love this series so much.  Charlie walks up to Ariel and tries to talk to her.  Ariel says you don’t have to partner with me just cause you pity me or whatever.  And Charlie replies “I thought you looked cool.  I like your bracelets.” They immediately start chatting and Ariel admits that she is good at art.  She draws something and Charlie is very impressed.  And soon enough they are friends.  I loved that interaction and wish it was that easy in real life.  And maybe sometimes it is.

Later that night, Aster goes to Charlie’s house. Their friendship is out in the open–her dads like him and everything.  They talk about their day and have a family dinner (I love that Charlie has two dads, but it is not a plot point or an issue at all.  It just is).

Then we cut to Ariel’s house.  Ariel is in foster care (you can tell by how different she looks from the rest of the family).  Her “dad” is kind of jerk saying that if she can’t make it in this school, she may have to go back to the foster system (jeez).

Ariel complains that trouble finds her–none of the things that happened in the past were her fault.  But the whole time she is staring at the phone and getting angrier.

Charlie promised she would call that night but she hasn’t..  And by the time she is ready for bed, Ariel goes to her hideout and summons a Fetch which she sends to find Charlie and give her “a scare.”

The Fetch is basically a shadow that sneaks into Charlie’s room and burns her (or something) on the arm.  Charlie runs away and the creature follows.  She runs all the way to Aster’s house and when she crosses through the protection stones, the Fetch can’t follow.

Charlie finds Aster and with his grandmother’s help, he is able to heal her arm.  Then the grandmother looks through the eyestone and they an all see the Fetch.  The grandmother can’t determine who made the Fetch, but she does make a protection spell for Charlie.  As Charlie walks away, Aster agrees to help his grandmother wit her brother.

At school the net day, Ariel is making enemies and sends a Fetch to push the bullies around a bit.  She is also super frosty to Charlie.  That’s when Charlie realizes she forgot to call her and is very sorry.  When she says “You kind of hate me now,” Ariel is taken aback and promises not to hate her.

She asks why Charlie had a bad night.  Charlie says she dealt with whatever it was and Ariel says to herself that that’s never happened before.

The next day, Charlie and Ariel are studying together when Aster comes by to bring Charlie a bracelet of protection.  Ariel gets a little jealous of their friendship.  When Aster leaves, she says boys are mean.  Charlie says everyone can be mean sometimes.  Charlie says that even though she has friends, sometimes she thinks everyone got the message about how to act and she missed it.  That’s why she likes Ariel.

Ariel is offended “Because I don’t know how to act?”
Charlie replies, “Because you don’t think there’s a right way to act.  You’re just doing your thing.”

That night is Charlies basketball game.  Aster goes and on his way Sedge tags along.  Sedge admits he doesn’t want to shapeshift–he’s freaked out about it.  In fact, he thinks that normal school sounds pretty great.

At the game Aster sees that Fetch is helping Charlie in the game–fouling people and assisting with the ball. Charlie is devastated that she wasn’t as good as she thought she was.  But the more pressing concern is who was casting the Fetch.  That’s when she realizes it must be Ariel.

They confront Ariel and she says that Charlie is clearly a witch too–that’s why she wasn’t hurt by the Fetch.  But Aster says it was his family that helped Charlie.  And he wants to help Ariel as well–hes concerned for her because the Fetch could backfire on her.   Being angry all the time can really impact you–When people treat you like a monster you start to act like one.

Soon enough the Fetch attacks Ariel and she is rendered unconscious.

Aster and Charlie bring her to Aster’s house–the only place she can get help.

I loved the way the story was resolved and who it tied so nicely to the previous book.  I also enjoyed the way the story lines twisted together ta the end (no spoilers)

I’m looking forward to book three (which is out already)!

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SOUNDTRACK: JEN CLOHER-“Impossible Germany” (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.

Cloher takes on of my favorite Wilco songs and transforms it in a way that I quite like.  The song opens with some cool buzzing guitar sounds before the main melody resolves with some plinking guitars and keys.

When Cloher starts singing in her quiet, whispering voice, the song builds up a bit and grows really catchy (with cool sound effects swirling around).  The song is really mellow and catchy until the guitar solo in the middle which has a great echo on it as the song ramps up the speed.

I love that the song has picked up the pace and Cloher has vocally as well, although her delivery remains much the same–understated and cool.

It’s a great version.

[READ: February 15, 2020] The Witch Boy

My daughter has had this book for quite some time and she and S. both encouraged me to read it.  I didn’t put it off for any reason, it’s just that there were other things around first.

But boy did I love this story.

I love that it plays with gender roles but in the inverse of a lot of stories.  In this one the boy wants to do what the girls normally do.  And I liked that it’s not that the boys think what the girls do is too girly, it’s just that that is how it has always been done–boys do one thing and girls do another.  So it’s a nice twist on the gender role reversal story.  Plus the story is unyieldingly positive.

We open on a group of young girls learning witchcraft.  I love that they are speaking in runes and that (I assume) Osterberg made up all the symbols?  Or maybe they are classic witchcraft symbols?

Then we see that Aster is in the tree above them eavesdropping.  He is yelled at and told the girls are leaning secrets that he is not privy to.  His mother tries to calm him by saying the magic is not for him, but he insists that he wants to learn it.  But his role, like all the boys, is to learn to shapeshift (I’m glad they each have a cool skill, at least).  But he’s not interested in shapeshifting.  He wants to cast spells.

Then we learn why the gender roles are separated.  Aster’s grandmother had a twin, Mikasi.  Mikasi wanted to learn magic and he eavesdropped as well.  But the spells poisoned him and he lost control.  A darkness came over him, people were hurt and he was cast out. (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: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-“Echoes” (2019).

Rodrigo y Gabriela are amazing guitarists.  Rod plays amazing solos wile Gab plays an astonishing rhythmic counterpoint (both on acoustic).  Although they do play classical and Spanish styles (and so much more) they often mix heavy metal elements into their songs.  I have seen them twice live and they blew me away each time.

They are back with their first album in five years.  And they have just released a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” an 18 minute song that I just love.

And their version is utterly fascinating.  How do two guitarists plan to cover Pink Floyd?  Well, the beginning of the song is a great, recognizable riff, so they play that and Rod plays the vocal line when that comes around.

The middle of the original gets really trippy and kind of dark, with all kinds of synth sounds.  So what do Rod y Gab do?  They embrace what they do best–with Gab playing an incredible rhythm, Rod takes an opportunity to shuffle around in a solo (there’s certainly some looping overdubbing here).  The middle quiets down to them just scraping strings and pounding the guitar and splaying single echoing notes.  It’s not as dark as the original, but it’s still a weird and somewhat unsettling passage.

The song comes out of the middle darkness with  a rollicking solo and a huge buildup from both guitars.

It resumes the song and finishes much like the original in about 18 minutes.  It’s spectacular.

Learn more about it and watch the video here.

[READ: January 25, 2019] Cucumber Quest 2

It has been a while since I read Cucumber Quest 1, so details were a little fuzzy, but the humor of the book is still awesome (especially the way it undercuts hero tropes.

Cucumber wakes up on an island and as he is calling for his friends, he steps on a cell phone.  As he goes to use it, someone shouts NOOO!

It is a young female bunny creature arguing with a crab.  The crab (and all of the crabs) are crabby.  They doubt that she is Princess Nautilus even if she claims she is.  Cucumber takes out his magic wand and it actually works!   He saves her.  Woah.

She says he can call her Nautilus.  He suggests “How about Nautie for sh–” and then realizes what he said. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES-“Halloween” (1981).

For all of the Halloween songs that are not really about Halloween (even songs that are called Halloween), this one is about Halloween (and more).

Siouxsie and the Banshees created some really catchy songs that they swathed in layers of creepiness.  The chorus of this song is “trick or treat trick or treat the bitter and the sweet.”  It’s catchy, but not treacly.

The night is still

And the frost it bites my face
I wear my silence like a mask
And murmur like a ghost
“Trick or Treat”
“Trick or Treat”
The bitter and the sweet

Just listen to that jagged guitar that introduces the the verses.  Then during the verses, it’s pretty in a minor key way.  About midway through the song the bass takes a few fast runs up and down the fret board to create a tense moment that is followed by a tribal drum section.

And just so you know that this is more bitter than sweet, the next part:

I wander though your sadness
Gazing at you with scorpion eyes
Halloween……Halloween

Seals the deal that this is a goth/post-punk song after all.

[READ: October 26, 2018] “Witches”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TROUBLE FUNK-Tiny Desk Concert #748 (May 30, 2018).

If Tiny Desk was set anywhere other than Washington D.C. I would never have heard of go-go.  It is a regional funk style that seems to have never left the area and of which the DC crowd is very proud.

Go-go — Washington D.C.’s regional twist on funk — reigned in the DMV during the 1980s, and one of the scene’s signature acts was Trouble Funk. More than 30 years later, the collective — led by Big Tony Fisher — still fills sold-out venues with heavyweight percussion and call-and-response lyrics. Trouble Funk concerts are bona fide jam sessions, so I was determined to squeeze their unrelenting rhythms behind the Tiny Desk. While the late Chuck Brown is often acknowledged as the godfather of go-go, Trouble Funk was a key part of the sound’s second wave.

And considering that the band is decked out in matching Trouble Funk baseball uniforms, it seems like they have no intention of going anywhere (clearly not all of the members are original).

How do you fit 12 members behind a Tiny Desk?  Put the horns: (Dean Harris (trumpet), Eric Silvan (saxophone), Paul Phifer (trombone)) on the right.  Put the drummer (Tony Edwards) on the left and the hugely important percussionists (Chris Allen and Larry Blake) back and center, anchoring everything.

Then you have the keyboardists (Allyson Johnson and James Avery) and the guitarist/vocalist David Gussom (only one guitar in the whole band of 12 people!).

Right up front you have the two singers Derrick Ward and Keith White and orchestrating the whole thing is Big Tony Fisher (bass/vocals).

They begin with the 1982 banger, “Pump Me Up”, which has a great watery funky bass sound (from the keys) and tremendous percussion.  All of the verses are rapped in a 35-year-old-style–rhythmic more than rapping (with lyrics about Calvin Klein and other jeans, Superman, Studio 54 and Fat Albert).  Four of them take a verse, but the show is all about Big Tony Fisher, who has got this great deep voice.

Incidentally, this song was

sampled in Public Enemy’s protest anthem “Fight the Power” and M/A/R/R/S’s dance classic “Pump Up The Volume.”

I need to hear the original to figure out what was sampled.

The drums breaks here are definitive go-go and it was hard to discern who was having more fun: the band or the audience.

As they shift to “Grip It,” you can hear the change of style but not intensity as the song shifts and “buoyant and staccato horn melodies propelled the song forward.”

It segues to “Let’s Get Small” through a funky bass line.  It features Trouble Funk’s classic call-and-response chants of “I like it!”

The music stops but the rhythm continues as they segue into “Drop the Bomb,” “another notable gem from their lengthy discography which keeps the energy level high.”

“Don’t Touch That Stereo” was the first song where I couldn’t hear much of a difference between it and the preceding song.  And I realized that they’d been playing nonstop for nearly 14 minutes–all in a similar funky style.  It’s a great fun party even if the individual songs are kind of beside the point.

They did take a short break as Tony introduced their first hit from 1979 “E Flat Boogie.”

I’m rather surprised that go-go never took off anywhere else, since, as the blurb says, the music “inspires a spirit of dance, rhythm and sheer joy.”

[READ: July 7, 2016] “Fable”

This was another story that I found strangely unsatisfying.

I feel like this story was almost perfect but that there were elements that prevented it from being so.

Since it is called “Fable,” it begins with “once upon a time.”  But we know that it is not a real fable exactly because the next part is “there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work though some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.”

His first attempt is short and dull: “one day the man woke up and realized that this was pretty much it for him.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VICENTE GARCÍA-Tiny Desk Concert #701 (February 2, 2018).

Singer-songwriter Vicente García plays a delicate acoustic guitar and has a pretty crooning voice.

The blurb says that he

is still relatively under the radar, but performances like the one he gave at the Tiny Desk are starting to turn some heads.

García’s music isn’t dominated by his native Dominican Republic, but you can hear it in every note. His poetic lyrics are like short stories, sung by a voice both plaintive and evocative, yet always distinct.

“San Rafael” is quite a pretty song echoing the beauty of San Rafael.

Before “A La Mar” (the title of second album which means ‘to the sea’) he introduces [unclear] Vasquez from Dominican Republic on percussion and Ricardo Muñoz from Bogota on the keys.  There’s a neat moment where he plays a harmonic on the guitar in a rather unusual way.  The delicate percussion really adds a lot, as does the bass line plays on the keys.

“Dulcito e Coco” opens with a lovely guitar melody and a close up of the fascinating percussion box that Vazquez is playing–a purple, strangely-shaped box that seems to get different sounds where you strike it.  The song stays quiet throughout although it does get a bit bigger by the end.

 

[READ: November 13, 2017] Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children

I was so excited to see Trace Beaulieu in person.  Ans even though this book is available everywhere, it was especially neat to buy it from the man himself and get him to autograph it.

It is subtitled A Yucky Big Book of Rainy Day Fun for Belligerent Children & Odd Adults with Nothing Better to Do.  The illustrations are by Len Peralta who apparently has not done anything else I’ve read even though his work looks so familiar and is really good.

So what is this?

Well the title is pretty accurate.  Trace has concocted snarky funny poems.  Most of them are pretty short (and in this format are often two or three lines per page) and accompanied by an illustration). (more…)

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