Archive for the ‘YA Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BETSAYDA MACHADO Y PARRANDA EL CLAVO-Tiny Desk Concert #707 (February 16, 2018).

How can you not love a band that is decked out in wonderful colors and whose only instruments are percussion?

I love the first song, “Santa Rosa.”  The chorus is super catchy and when they raise the note in the chorus on the “Oh! Santa Rosa” the song just soars.  Although Betsayda Machado sings most of the songs, this one opens with one of the men (in yellow) singing and I really like his voice, too.  I could even figure out the gist of the words.

And the percussion?  Two floor drums, 2 hands drums, shakers and that friction drum.  So cool.

So who are these folks?

The roots of the music of Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo extend to the Venezuelan slave trade, and while the vocals are in Spanish and not an African dialect, the instruments the group plays date back more than 500 years.

The large bamboo cylinders, the djembe-like drums and the large friction drum together create a symphony of interlocking polyrhythms that was unlike anything I’d heard. Machado’s vocals soar over the unrelenting rhythms, and when she harmonizes with the other singers, it creates a choir-like display of African call-and-response vocals.

When discussing African-influenced music from the southern hemisphere, we often focus on countries like Brazil and Cuba, places where the folk music eventually made its way into popular music. Afro-Venezuelan culture and music is rarely featured or even acknowledged outside of the country. As you’ll see in this video, that should change once music fans take in the beauty of Machado’s voice and the power of her historical message.

“Alaé Alaó” is much more somber, but the percussion is incredible–three men playing bamboo sticks against bricks–the details of what they do are fascinating.  The song starts to pick up with bongos and other hand drums as the guy starts singing again.  During the middle of the song one of the women goes out dancing on the main floor with some of the crew.  This can only lead to more dancing.

“Sentimiento”  The guy in yellow sings the beginning of the song and then Betsayda comes in.  The friction drum is back along with all the shakers and percussion.  I love the way they all stop perfectly at the end.

The band includes: Betsayda Machado, Nereida Machado, Youse Cardozo, Blanca Castilo, Adrian “Ote” Gomez, Jose Gomez, Oscar Ruiz.

[READ: November 20, 2017] Science Comics: Dogs

I have enjoyed every Science Comic that has come out, but this might have been my favorite.

In addition to being about a great topic: dogs, it was also updated with a ton of new information that I had no awareness of.  On top of that there’s a ton of scientific information about genetics, evolution and natural selection.  To top it off, it’s narrated by an adorable pup named Rudy who loves a tennis ball.

Once Rudy drags his owner to the dog park, Rudy can tell us all about dogs.

He explains that all dogs are from the species lupus, and yet look at how different all of the breeds are.  So Rudy rushed back to 25000 BP (before present). (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: GEORGE CLINTON & THE P-FUNK ALL STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #697 (January 24, 2018).

George Clinton is famous for being from outer space and for bringing the funk.  That was a pretty long time ago.  He’s now 77, but he still has the energy and the passion, although it is weird to see him looking so…normal.

He’s just got on a cool coat–no colored dreadlocks, no dresses or sequins.  But he still holds a room’s attention.

P-Funk’s lineage runs 50-plus years. From The Parliaments to Funkadelic to Parliament Funkadelic to the P-Funk All Stars, George Clinton has conducted the mothership as a reliable father figure. When he commands you to “put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership,” he’s presenting to you the first law of Funktonian physics. We at NPR pledged our groovellegiance when he and his P-Funk All Stars touched down to bless the Tiny Desk.

I love that Clinton has kept the spirit and familial nature of P-Funk alive all these years:

Clinton has brought his own bloodline into the most recent lineup of P-Funk: His grandchildren are the newest backup singers, while another grandchild serves as tour manager. Though this was a much smaller outfit than their traditional stage shows — no horn section, no dancers, no Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk — the extended family was also in full effect. Garrett Shider on rhythm guitar, filling in for his late father, Garry Shider, aka Starchild. Even original trumpeter Bennie Cowan, who still tours with the group but didn’t make it to the Tiny Desk, typically plays alongside his son Benzel on drums. Blackbyrd McKnight and Lige Curry cement the foundation as elder statesmen who’ve been rocking with Clinton since 1978.

They play three songs.  I don’t know how much Clinton sang back in the day–was he the lead singer or just a bringer of the funk?  But in “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” most of the vocals are chanted and sung by the backing vocalists (Tonysha Nelson, Patavian Lewis, and Tairee Parks).  Clinton is more like the hype man–getting everyone worked up, clapping and making noise.  Rhythm guitarist Garrett Shider takes a lead vocal, keeping the funk going.  The song is big and the riff is great and the funk is entirely in the house.  Dwayne Blackbyrd McKnight plays an awesome funky guitar throughout the Concert.

“One Nation Under A Groove” is a more mellow (relatively), smoother song.  I love the guitar sound, and there’s some suitably funky and retro-sounding keyboards from Danny Bedrosian.

“Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is the real classic.  Clinton is really into this one–dancing and clapping and the bass by Lige Curry and drums by Benzel Cowan are terrific.

He may not have the interstellar look, but Clinton still has the funk.

[READ: October 25, 2017] Birthright: Volume Five

This is the first Birthright volume that I didn’t love.  There was a lot of demon head ripping off and tentacles and splatters.  Fire and blood and gore, but not a lot of coherent action.

It started out quite good with Rya’s back story. We see her as a baby on a battlefield being rescued by, of all creaturs…an orc.  He told her of the prophecy to defeat Lore.  And then she met young Mikey and “knew that the prophecy was a load of razorbeast dung.”

Then we see Mikey quickly develop into the man he is–and then disappear.  It was rumored he was killed but then Kallista gave away that he was still alive.  That made Rya really mad. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKATING POLLY-Fuzz Steilacoom (2014).

“Ugly pop” is how Skating Polly describes their music.  And it’s a pretty good descriptor.  Their music is loud and brash and the two members can both sing pretty and scream loudly.

Both Kelli Mayo & Peyton Bighorse play drums and guitar and piano and they alternate for different songs.  Kelli’s instrument is more of a bassitar–a bass with just a couple of strings on it.

How on earth do they make such a big sound with such limited equipment?  And how do they write such great songs?

I guess at this point it’s worth mentioning that Kelli and Peyton are stepsisters and, when they made this album in 2014, Kelli was 14 and Peyton was all of 19.  How, then do they make music that sounds like a perfect continuation of the riot grrrl 90s?  Catchy, with lot of distortion and a whole lot of pogoing.

The other fascinating thing about these songs is that they are short.  You’d assume that fast punky songs–with only two instruments and no guitar solos!–would barely clock in at 3 minutes.  But these songs are almost all 3 and a half, some pushing four minutes.

“Alabama Movies” has a cool staggered riff with a high bass note that stands out in a really cool way. The song is smooth and rocking until the chorus where Kelli lets her shriek flag shine and the song totally rocks.  “Scummy Summer” has a very different sound–more tinny and guitar-based–including a moment mid-song when all of the fuzz drops out and it’s just a clean guitar and simple drums.  I’m assuming that this is a Peyton song.  They trade-off styles like this throughout the album–some heavier, some lighter, but pretty consistently with a lot of distortion.

“Ugly” really shows off what they can do.  Opening with some acoustic guitar and whispered vocals, the rest of the song follows a rumbling bass line and thumping drums:

I wear my face just like my skin
Dried up, paint-free, and authentic
I let my hair just soak up grease
I brush it with my fingers, see?

and then this more disturbing third section, in which they don’t hold back:

Suzy went to school this morning
Suzy went to class this morning
Suzy was loudly droning
Suzy told the class her story
You can look in the mirror
Might not like what you see
You can try to change it
But you’ll always be ugly
And you’ll always be nothing

They mix up some of their style even more with songs like “Break Your High” which is almost fast folk.   This one has a waltz beat and acoustic guitars.  The rest of the album plays with these dynamics in interesting ways.

They sisters are very impressive with their tightness-t-hey stop on a beat and change styles mid-song as easily.

I’m a little underwhelmed by the production of the record.  Specifically the drums, which sound like they are made of cardboard.  The guitars (especially Kelli’s bass heavy one) sound great though.

The final song, “A Little Late” throws everything out the window and shows a totally different side of the band.   It’s a five-minute piano song with the lyrics sung in a round–both Kelli and Peyton singing over and over each other.  It’s really interesting and quite catchy. the way the song slowly builds, adding new instruments.  There’s a lot of components to the song, but I especially like:

Chase away the thoughts that make you hate
‘Cause hate does not create
And hate at best will just keep you a little late, a little late

This was their third album.  I have yet to hear their earlier two, but their follow-up was pretty outstanding.

[READ: October 17, 2017] Brave

Tabitha chose to read this book because she really liked Awkward.  It takes place in the same universe, and I love that the characters from Awkward make a cameo.

Peppi (Penelope) is back in this story but she is a very minor character.  Indeed, the book says that there will be more books set in Berrybrook Middle School presumably with many different characters in the lead.

This story follows Jensen, an overweight, socially awkward, not-terribly-bright boy who has anxieties but generally doesn’t feel that he is being picked on (he is).

Peppi is part of the art club and that’s where Jensen finds some friends, too. (more…)


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This EP is a collection of some B-sides and Outtakes from their fantastic album Birds Say.  There are five songs, included a stunning cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.”

The other four songs are the lovely “Whippoorwill” punctuated by scratches from the mandolin and guitar at the end of each line.  Lead vocals seem to be from Auyon, but there’s very rarely one lead vocalist here.  And just when you think the song is a pretty folk song, the end gets bigger, with a cool bass line and louder harmonies.

“Fourth of July” is all about harmonies and a propulsive chorus.  And “Open Door” is almost a capella.  The only music for a time is the scratching of Harris Paseltine’s guitar strings as a rhythm while all four sing beautifully.  This song is faster than many of their others and even features a whistling solo.  There is some minimal violin on this track but it really feels fully a capella.

“Blow the House Down” is an old song (from their debut–when they had a drummer!) reissued here as a foursome.  What’s notable about it is that vocals are supplied almost exclusively by bassist David Senft.  Rather interesting humming bass backing vocals are supplied by everyone else.  It ends with a wailing (for them) noisy solo from Don Mitchell’s electric guitar and Auyon’s violin (it’s even more intense live).

The final song is their terrific cover of “1979.”  I’ve always thought the music for this song was wonderful.  But hearing their version of it I realized how much Corgan’s voice kinda ruins the song.  Hearing these guys harmonize the verse is pretty great.  But hearing them sing full-out on the chorus “I don’t even care” is utterly gorgeous.  Their version is the gold standard for this song now.  It’s a great EP (and three of the guys signed it for me!).

[READ: November 5, 2017] Castle in the Stars

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

The title is an intriguing one and while initially confusing, it makes perfect scene when you realize the book is about ballooning: “1868: The Age of Progress, an era of industry… beyond the blue of the sky, where the cold freezes the breath, where the air disappears…the mysetry begins.”

For this story is not just about ballooning, it is about The Secret of Aether.

The story is about young Seraphin. As the book opens, his mother is going into the balloon. His father is yelling at her that she is crazy to go up in the is weather (gorgeous ominous clouds fill the full page). He tries to guilt her into not going.  But her balloon is equipped with a bulb that will light when it gets to the aether, which is her quest.  Then she is up in the air writing in her journal.

She rises to 12,000 meters but… nothing. She’s about to give up when at 12,900 meters the bulb shines brightly and then explodes.  She found it! And she is never seen again. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 10 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (December 17, 2005).

This was the 10th and final night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.   And their final show on the Rheostatic site before the “final” shows in 2007.

Great guest moments including Anthony Fragomeni reprising his Drumstein character from Dave Reid’s Centennial High School Production, Selina Martin and Jenn Foster guesting on I Dig Music/PROD, Robin Lowe taking another shot at Sweet, Rich, Beautiful and Mine due to issues with Martin’s Rig on Guest Vocalist night, Ida Nelson and Tim performing Listening, Kaitlyn and Nevil guesting on the Pogues Fairytale of New York and an awesome version of Powderfinger wedged inside Feed Yourself. Great show to end the final edition of the Fall Nationals.

The show opens with “a folk song for all you drinkers here at the hustling Horseshoe Hotel”  It’s a big friendly welcome that introduces the band as well.     Martin: As the song says, “Welcome.  Things have been pretty hairy the last few nights.”

As they start “Northern Wish,” Dave says, “Hey, who is that guy.  You’re not in our band.  Someone call security.”  It sounds great. Then Ford starts playing the “Everyday People” chords.  They sing the song and fun and then Tim segues his bass line perfectly into “It’s Easy To Be With You.”

There’s a very nice “Introducing Happiness.”  Ron Koop from Peep Show comes out, “He’s been our knight in shining armour.”

During “Queer,” Ford gets a lengthy piano solo which suddenly changes to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Alberta Bound” (send this one out to Dutch)

Up comes Ms. Robin Lowe, she’s been selling you shit for the last ten days.  There’s some talk about Roger Clemens.  Martin “What?”  Robin: “The Astros.  Baseball.”  This leads to a discussion about the Italians on the Moon.  Dave: “The Italians wouldn’t go to the moon because it’s just too far from home, from mama’s kitchen.  Unless mom could go too and lay out his spaceman clothes on his space bed.”  Martins mom is there tonight.  “So no cussing, Martin.”

“There’s no swearing in this one.”  On “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine” Robin makes up for the problem the other night and does a great job–such high notes!  The only thing I miss in the song is when Martin’s guitar soars at that one mention of “rich.”

Martin then says “This is Ford’s set list.  I wrote this song when I was a teenager.  And I think the last time we played it i was still one.”  For the line: “And mother said [Mike: tonight] lying’s wrong.”  Martin: “I like that song.  I forgot about it.”  Ford: “It got played last year. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal.”

Selina Martin and Jennifer Foster come out for “I Dig Music.” Ford: “now there are beautiful women, who knows what will happen next.   They sing backing vocals but not very noticeably.  Mid song, Dave notes: “we defer to the velvet fog or in this case the Polish fog.”  (MPW’s vocal about “Senor Slime.”  They get really insane by the end with everyone screaming “jazz animal.”  Dave says with just a little bit of hard rock thrown in there.  It turns into “P.R.O.D.”  Ford plays the horn.  Dace: “That’s a big horn. What hardcore needs is more French horn.”  Tim is called on for a bass solo, but it’s the wrong bass. “Shall we pause while Tim puts on the right bass.”

It’s our last night so we feel required to walk the tightrope–always on the edge of trying too hard.

Send this out to George Collins: “Making Progress.”  At the end Tim says, “That’s for Lisa.”  Dave: “No I already dedicated it to George.”

Ford plays a long wavery weird keyboard note as a transition to “Who Is This Man And Why Is He Laughing?”

Dave says “On Wednesday we did Whale Music and we brought some songs out of the woodshed and here’s one of them in case you missed it.”  It’s a nice version of “Who?”   Tim: That was definitely from my They Might Be Giants phase [I can hear that].

But it takes a bit to start because Michael’s having a pee.  Every time he plays that red guitar he has to pee.

Martin says “We’re gonna tighten up the space between songs from here on.”
Dave: “That was peeing problem.”
Martin: “I’ve noticed as a general trend.  It’s not a gabby night.  Last night was a gabby night.”
Tim: “incontinence was a trend.”
Mike: “Tim is one of those toque guys who when he takes it off you think male pattern baldness but then he peels it off and he’s got lustrous hair.”
Dave: “hair pride, hair shame, hair shame, hair pride.”
Tim: “You guys are talking not rocking.”

I Am Drumstein.  Anthony Fragomeni (formerly Anthony until he went to jazz college, now he’s Tony).  He was the lead of Centennial High School’s Story of Harmelodia.  Tim says it was a career highlight seeing that.   Tony adds personalized notes about the band in the lyrics and they really rock the end.

MPW plays a drum fill through the end–I just did that because I blew the ending and I thought I’d do an interesting beat to a new song.
Tim: “That drum part reeked of cover up.”
Mike: “You’re right.  Me and Karl Rove.”

After a pause.  Mike says, “Let’s do something sprawling and epic.”
Martin: “Almost as sprawling and epic as the space between songs.”

Martin introduces “CCYPA” as “this is a little blues number I wrote to sell chicken wings.”  Mid song Tim advises, “Remember they call it conservative but it’s still spelled Reform.  They’re like wolves in dogs’ clothing.”  Dave: “Stephen Harper eats babies.  You can see it in his eyes.  He takes off his face and there’s a  lizard face.”  Mike: “He went to France to get dead eye transplants.”  Tim: “And under the face of the lizard is the face of a Reform party member.”
By this time, they’re down to just a few bass notes playing.  “If Tim stops, are we still inside the song?”

Mike asks Martin if mid-song patter is okay, and Martin says, “yeah, I’m enjoying this.”

This next song is also brought to you by Ford Pier (Mike: and his incessant caterwauling).  They play a fun “Triangles On The Walls” and Martin modifies a line to: “her name was Satan, but I guess she called herself that for her own protection because she was perfectly nice.”  It’s followed by a very nice “Try To Praise This Mutilated World.”

Up next is a surprise cover of “Fairytale of New York” sung by Kaitlyn and Nevil (“and we’re both wearing matching outfits tonight.”  Nevil does a great Shane/Tom Waits style.  Kaitlyn is less impressive.  After the first verse, no one does the penny whistle fast part, but that doesn’t stop them. They kind of fight their way through the song and it’s overall pretty okay.

There’s a really intense “Feed Yourself” with Dave singing/screaming “I wanna see her face” and getting really creepy: “open up the grave.”  They play a decent “Powderfinger” in the middle of the song and then come back to finish it.”   We’ll stay in the suburbs for this next song: “Stolen Car.”

Dave thanks everyone for the privilege of playing for them “It gives us lots of fuel for the future.”  (Rats)

The end of “Song Of The Garden” is just insane with Dave freaking out and screaming about the beauty of Harmelodia.  But as the song ends, Mike won’t stop his insane drumming and Martin is making all kid of feedback noises.  Dave even tries to get everyone to stop “Hey children, you know what time it is?  Rock n roll children, do you realize what time it is?”  But Mike won’t stop.  Dave starts playing “You Are Very Star” and Martin starts singing even while mike thunders away.  They finish the song in a childlike way and someone says, “Aw young’uns you’re all so adorable.”

“The Land Is Wild” starts with Dave solo.  It builds but people mess up the end on him.”  Then Tim plays a new one (“Listening”) with Ida from Vancouver  Great Aunt Ida has opened for them the last few nights).

“Legal Age Life At Variety Store” starts.  Dave says, “I think it’s time.”  Tim: “For me to play the drums?”  It’s tradition.  Every year for the five years or maybe even longer…  I don’t mean Martin playing the bongos, or mike playing the bass or Tim playing the drums.  It’s the fifth annual Horseshoe twist contest.”

Mike is terrible at the bass and Tim screws up a fill, “I know, I know, I’m back on the bass.”  “Timmy ‘smooth fills’ is fired.”  “I’m not fired so much as demoted, downsized.”  The contestants, are Melissa, Eric “that’s Eric with his version of the twist.”    Stephanie fulfilling her life-long dream to twist with the Rheostatics.  Susan, Paul and James.  As the twist continues, Martin starts talking in a crazy Russian accent: “Hi, my name is Wendell Clark (presumably he has the Wendell doll). Can you twist with Wendell.? I guess i think Wendell Clark is Russian or something.”

Then he introduces “the twist champion of the greater Ottawa Valley Ron Koop.  All of our contestants have been super fine–they all get something from the merch table and the honor of twisting with Ron Koop.”

After nearly 20 minutes of Legal Age Life and twisting they play “Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne.”  Dave switches the words to “Wendell, dear old Wendell” and Ford gets on organ solo.

After a jaunty “PIN,” Dave says, “don’t worry fellas, you guys are going to get to the leather bar.  Things don’t really get started until 5 clock.

And after all of that, they end the nearly three hour show with a ten minute scorching version of “Horses.”  When they get to the Talking Heads part, Martin sings it in the robot voice–which sounds pretty awesome.  It’s a great ending, a great set, and quite a shame that the band broke up a few months after this.:.

[READ: July 26, 2017] The Stone Heart

It had been a year since I’d read the first book in this trilogy.  I was worried that I’d forget what had happened, but Hicks catches us up pretty quickly and, more importantly, her storytelling was so good in the first book that it was easy to get right back into this exciting story.

The story opens on Rat and Kaidu–Rat has been doing some physical therapy on her hurt ankle and is feeling pretty much all better.

As a nice reminder, we see Rat and Kaidu meeting Ezri, the son of the General of All Blades.  In the last book, it was Rat and Kaidu who saved Erzi and the city.

We also see that a monk is there to discuss things with the general.  Rat knows the monk (named Joah) who used to be a soldier but rescinded violence when he joined the monastery.  Then we also see that Erzi’d guard Mura also knows the Monk and doesn’t seem to like him much. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN ZORN’s A Dreamer’s Christmas (2011).

You can never say with certainty what kind of music you will get with a John Zorn record.  It could be beautiful; it could be scary.  It could be chaotic; it could be traditional.  There’s could be death metal or gentle jazz.  There could be vocals or not.

Some time in 2008, Zorn started yet another project.  This one was called The Dreamers and it proved to be on the mellow, jazzy side of his spectrum.

The members have been Cyro Baptista − percussion; Joey Baron − drums; Trevor Dunn − acoustic and electric Bass; Marc Ribot − guitars; Jamie Saft − keyboards and Kenny Wollesen − vibes, chimes, glockenspiel.  For A Dreamer’s Christmas, Mike Patton (notorious for making a racket) sings some delightful vocals on 2 songs.

The album contains eight tracks: six traditional and two original Zorn compositions.

“Winter Wonderland” is played on vibes.  There’s a cool repeating bass signature that bounces the song along and a groovy jazzy keyboard background before the electric guitar comes in to play the main riff.

“Snowfall” is just lovely with more vibes and a delicate guitar and twinkling piano.  There’s even some hand drums to add some cool percussive effects.  the songs is primarily a lovely piano instrumental.  I don’t understand why I don’t know this song.  Why isn’t it on other Christmas albums?  It’s lovely.

“Christmastime is Here” is, indeed, the song from The Peanuts movie.  The main melody is guitar and vibes and this version is possibly more entertaining than the original.

“Santa’s Workshop” is a John Zorn composition.  It’s faster and a bit more upbeat than the others, but with a really groovy riff and some fun vibes to match it.  There’s also a fun keyboard solo.  This song first in perfectly with the others.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”  begins with a quiet and somber piano playing the melody.  It’s a lovely piece with some fun piano noodling.

“Let It Snow” starts with a bell and a rather funky bass line.  After a minute or so the guitar takes over to play the main melody.  There’s some weird and wacky 70s keys playing around in the background that you don’t really notice right away.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is the first odd-sounding track on the disc.  The guitar is plucked and the percussion seems to be all kinds of small wooden things clattering around.  I assume someone is playing the rims of glasses as well.  That goes on for a minute before the piano comes in and it gets very jazzy (with an upright bass).  It sounds a lot like the kind of piano playing featured in Charlie Brown.  The end of the song features a kind of whispered, slightly sinister take on the lyric by Patton.

“Magical Sleigh Ride” is the second Zorn original.  It is a swift-moving treat–fluid bass, repeated guitar licks and solos, and a fast percussion beat before the melody kicks in.  After about 2 minutes there’s a pretty wild and rollicking guitar solo.  It’s the most intense thing on the record (which isn’t very intense really) but all along the jazzy pianos and percussion remains.  Its followed by a similarly exuberant vibes solo.  It’s another great Christmas song and fits in perfectly with the others.

“The Christmas Song” returns to the traditional with a lovely, quiet piano rendition of the song and a nice vocal delivery from Mike Patton.  Patton is in perfectly deep-voiced crooner mode and it suits everything perfectly.  There’s a lengthy piano solo in the middle and then Patton finishes the song.

The disc ends with everyone wishing us a Merry Christmas.

It is a surprising and wonderful Christmas album worthy of addition to everyone’s collection.

[READ: November 26, 2017] The Crown of Fire

This is the fourth and final book in the Copernicus series.  There is no third or fourth mini book (I wonder why there wasn’t at least at third one).

I found this book to be exhausting and depressing.   And that’s because for the most part that’s how the characters felt–exhausted and depressed.  I also felt more exhausted by the series than I apparently felt after book three.  I thought I had stopped because I was burnt out on the series, but that’s not the impression I get from reading my post.  But this book did get very dark for most of its 500+ pages.

Lily and Darrell are together by themselves and they are fleeing once again.  They eventually find someone who will help them leave the country in a cargo ship–two weeks in a tiny hold by themselves.  Even Darrell who is still crazy about Lily finds it a bit much.

Back in the other part of the world, Becca Wade and Sara have just gotten a message from Roald.  But it turns out to be a trap. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO-Tiny Desk Concert #680 (December 4, 2017).

Up until now, I have more or less missed Ted Leo and all of his phases.  The blurb notes:

How you listen to Leo depends on when his work came into your life. If you’re a back-in-the-day type you might rep for Chisel, his ’90s punk outfit born on the Notre Dame campus and bred in Washington, D.C. If you’re just tuning in, you may have witnessed his understated comedy chops in arenas like The Best Show on WFMU and a highly enjoyable Twitter feed. At the center of this bell curve are those who found Leo at the dawn of the 2000s — when, at the helm of what’s most commonly called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (shout-out to the typographical variants still mucking up iTunes libraries), he kicked off a run of five stellar albums in just under 10 years, each one urgently attuned to its political context and yet defiant in its ideas of what punk could sound like and whose stories it could aim to tell. Fans will tell you the songs about eating disorders and missing old ska bands felt just as vital to their moment as those that explicitly took on Sept. 11 and the Iraq War.

I know Ted Leo from when he played with Aimee Mann as The Both (they did a Tiny Desk show) and I am aware of Ted Leo + Pharmacists (the above mentioned typographical variant), but I somehow never really heard him/them.  I didn’t even know he was a Jersey guy.  (My friend Al is a big fan, I recently learned).

Recently, WXPN has been playing his new song “Can’t Go Back” which is wonderfully poppy and catchy and which I sing along to each morning.  Leaning more about him (and how funny he is in the Tiny Desk show) makes me want to see what I’ve been missing.

I obviously had no idea about his punk past, so I was pretty surprised to hear the feedback and heavy guitar of the first song here “Moon Out of Phase.”  Leo sings pretty hard on this song, too.  It’s fairly simple musically, but there’s a bunch going on lyrically that’s fun to pick out.

[After] the bone-rattling slow burn “Moon Out of Phase,” he smiled and explained the song was perhaps “a little heavy for noon — but, practically speaking, it helps me get the cobwebs out.”

“Can’t Go Back” couldn’t be more different. It’s catchy and not at all heavy.  It has backing vocals (provided by Leo himself) and just swings along.

 It’s a bit faster than on record, and as the blurb notes:

By the time he hit the first chorus of “Can’t Go Back,” a danceable bop about accepting that the life you have isn’t quite the one you planned for, any remaining cobwebs had been scattered to the wind.

Interestingly for being such a guitar based guy, there;s no solos on the songs (and yet they’re not short either, the first and third songs are about 4 minutes long).  Rather than a solo on “Can’t Get Back,” there’s a cool guitar chord progression.

He seems unsure of the quality of that song (not sure why–because he doesn’t hit those high notes perfectly?)  But then says he’ll finish off with a request.  “I’m a Ghost” is an old song that he doesn’t usually play solo, but figured he would because of the time of year (guess this was recorded around Halloween).

He tells an amusing story about someone asking about the first line: “I’m ghost and I wanted you to know its taking all of my strength to make this toast.”  The person asked if the toast was “a toast” or a ghost pressing the lever down on a toaster and “the hand of the frosty apparition is just going through the thing.”  He says it was originally “a toast” but now it is absolutely about the toaster, that’s the greatest metaphor for so many things.”

It’s really about “alienation from the political process.” It’s more rocking, like the first song, but with a catchy chorus like the second song.  This is a fun set and a good, long-overdue introduction to Ted Leo.

[READ: April 6, 2017] The Golden Vendetta

This is the third full-sized book in the Copernicus series.  It follows the mini-book about Becca.

I enjoyed this book more than the second one.  I enjoy the sections where they have some downtime and aren’t just running around.  And there was more downtime in this book.  I was also really intrigued by the way it began.

The families had been reunited and them separated.  So Darrell and Wade and the adults Kaplans were living in a hotel under an assumed name.  And Lily and Becca were also together under assumed names–but they were not allowed to contact the boys.  This went on for two months.

In that time Galina Krause had been inactive.  We learn that she had been in a coma, but the good guys never find that out, they’re just in the dark for months.

Until Galina wakes up and is on the move again.  And then everyone is on the move.

The families travel under assumed names but are still followed relentlessly by the bad guys. (more…)


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