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Archive for the ‘YA Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CAT POWER-Tiny Desk Concert #821 (February 4, 2019).

I remember when Cat Power was a buzz artist who had signed to Matador.  I bought her album in 1996, but I guess it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me.

Since then, she has been a buzz artist for performing and then for not performing and then for performing again.  All the new music of hers that I have heard seems to get slower and softer.

The biggest surprise about the Tiny Desk Concert was how full of smiles she was and yet the blurb makes her sound uncomfortable:

Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance. She intermittently steadied herself by resting a hand under her chin while clutching a cup of tea, and she ran through three songs without a break, making her set sound more like a Cat Power medley than a series of distinct songs.

So I don’t know any of the songs she played here and when I first listened I actually assumed she’d only played two songs because the first two blended together.

Regardless, the music was arresting and beautifully orchestrated, with simple piano lines and brushed drums backing a voice that could only be hers.

Opening with “Wanderer,” the title track to Cat Power’s latest album, Marshall sang of restless love and yearning with a nod toward motherhood and her 3-year-old son: “Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind, now your soul is in between.”

It has a quiet, simple piano melody (from Erik Paparazzi) and a gentle guitar (from Adeline Jasso) that imperceptibly pushes it forward.  After a minute, the brushed drums (from Alianna Kalaba) come in to add a little snap to the song.

“Woman,” another track from Wanderer starts immediately.  She had recorded this song with Lana Del Rey and I recall liking it. This version sounds so much like the previous song that I don’t even recognize the original in it.  The differences between the two songs are that the piano notes have changed a little (but since they repeat all the way through, it’s not hugely noticeable) and the guitar now uses a slide.  Otherwise the beat is I believe unchanged.

She segues right into “The Moon,” from her 2006 album The Greatest.  The only distinction here is that the guitar and drums stop briefly while the newly repeating piano picks up a slightly different melody.  This song sounds so much like the previous one because she sings the word “Moon” so much like the word “Woman” (often given Moon more than one syllable) I couldn’t tell that she was saying something different.

I suppose if I were in the right mood I would have found this mesmerizing and enchanting.  But mostly I just found it rather dull.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Speak

I hadn’t read this novel and, in fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about (although I knew it was intense).  The only reason I picked it up was because I thought it was a First Second publication and I plan to read all of their books.  This was listed in their 2018 publication list, but it ultimately wasn’t published by them, it turns out.

S. knew the book from her work with teens and said she didn’t want to read the graphic novel version.  So I expected a harrowing, potentially unreadable story.

But Anderson has created an excellent and compelling story built around a harrowing incident.  She also doesn’t detail the harrowing incident until later in the story, so by the time we hear about it we are even more sympathetic to Melinda.

I will say that as the story opened (because I didn’t know the timeline), I thought that the kids were being unrealistically mean to her.  I thought she was a new student at the school (it’s her first year in high school) and I couldn’t imagine why people really had it in for her.  It seemed hard to believe.  Especially as we realize pretty quickly that the incident has already happened.

Then it gradually comes out that kids are mad at her for something she did.  It is connected to the incident, but clearly isn’t about the incident because she hasn’t told anyone about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TERRA LIGHTFOOT-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I know of Terra Lightfoot because she has done some (very minimal) work with Rheostatics.

Amazingly, she is not related to Gordon Lightfoot (how many people have this last name?).

Terra Lightfoot opened for Whitehorse (a double bill I would love to see).  She plays a half a dozen songs.  I thought she might be a sensitive folkie (again that Gordon connection), but it turns out that she rocks (and blues), has a powerful voice and plays a pretty wicked guitar as well.

Lightfoot is a great front woman–engaging and funny–and she has some great stories to tell about each of her songs.

“Stars over Dakota” just rocks out–big guitars, smashing drums (from Joel Haynes) and then settles into a swinging shuffle.  Lightfoot has a singular voice which I quite like.  I also like the little guitar riff she gives after the “gin martinis make dizzy” line.  She is joined mid-song by Melissa McClelland of Whitehorse who sings some amazing harmonies.  That’s two killer voices on one stage.

Drifter is a slower song, with a really lovely opening guitar melody.  She has been inspired in her career by her grandmother and her aunt who both played music.  Her grandmother recently died, but her aunt is still playing.

Introducing the next song “You Get High,” she says she has a special new guitar–a woman made it for me Ashley Leanne from Waterloo, she’s 26.  While Terra’s going to play this acoustic, she invites Daniel Lanois up on the stage.  “Can we get a spotlight on the man here?”  They can’t so he scooches over to her spotlight amid much chuckling.  Lanois plays a beautifully fluid electric guitar while she picks out a lively melody on the acoustic.

“Norma Gale” is about a famous musician from the 70 who played with Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash and went on a date with Conway Twitty (I guess he didn’t call her back).  While she was doing all these cool things, she was also raising a young son on her own.  So Terra wrote this song for her.  It starts as a pretty, slow ballad but builds nicely with the addition of keys (from Alan Zamatis).

“Hold You” rocks up again, and it’s got a cool call and response with a bass melody (from Maury LaFoy) rumbling along.  “Two Hearts” is a song she wrote in a couple of places in Europe when she was very much in love…. with a couple of people.   The song starts slowly but build to an intense climax with pounding drums and Terra on her knees rocking out,.

Having had a total mis-perception of Terra Lightfoot, this show blew me away and I want to hear more from her.

[READ: January 19, 2019] All Summer Long

This was a fun story about friendship, distance and guitar playing.

As the story open we see Austin and Bina getting ready for 7th grade summer vacation.  They have been friends since they were five years old and have spent all of the previous summers together.  They even created the Combined Summer Fun Index–a way to tally just how much fun they have each summer.

Last summer’s included:

  • Cats petted: 22
  • Went swimming: 51 times
  • $idewalk change: $1.18
  • Sneaked into R-Rated movies: 2 times

But this summer, Austin can’t participate.   He is going to soccer camp for a month.  A whole month.  Summer is ruined–for Bina at least. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIMBER TIMBRE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I’ve known about Timber Timbre for years but I seem to always get them mixed up with someone else .  I think of them as a dark synthy pop band, which is entirely false.  Their sound has been described as having “an aesthetic rooted in swampy, ragged blues” and “beautifully restrained blues from an alternate universe.”

Their music is cinematic and kind of spooky and their’s is the first of the Massey hall videos in which the stage is very dark.  It seems barely lit at all.

Taylor Kirk seems to be the main voice of the band (he sings as well).  He says he used to take the train to Massey Hall.  And says there is something that affords a big audience and intimacy at the same time.  He wonders what the band could possibly do after this.  He thinks it’s impossible that they sold it out.

“Grand Canyon” comes alive with washes of guitars and synths (Mathieu Charbonneau) and thumping drums (Olivier Fairfield) before Kirk speaks the lyrics:

From the Phoenix liftoff
Somewhere over Blackfoot reserve
High above Drumheller
Sky hostess starts to serve
Cloud shadows on the mountain
And our shadow on the mountainside
After Salt Lake City
I have time to close my eyes

The music is a soundscape with washes of atmosphere and some noisy feedbacking guitar from Simon Trotter.

Kirk says, “Welcome to the most exciting night of my entire life.”  He asks “Are you ready for this shit?” as the woozy echoing guitar chords open “Hot Dreams,” with the peculiar lyrics

I wanna dance, I wanna dance
I wanna dance with a black woman
It’s peculiar because it never returns to that idea in any way throughout the song
I wanna still, I wanna still
I wanna still my mind
And I wanna chance, I wanna chance
I want another chance
To distill
To distill that time
And I wanna write, I wanna write
I wanna write to someone so true
I wanna wake, I wanna wake
I wanna wake from hot dreams
Hot dreams of you
Oh hot dreams

There s a kind of Nick Cave vibe in his storytelling singing style the song stays pretty quiet until the guitar solo rings out.

“Bad Ritual” opens with moody guitars, a simple drum beat and noir piano and echoing guitars.  I love the way he sing/speaks the lyrics and the single piano note that echoes throughout the end of the song.

“Creep On Creepin’ On” sounds like an old 50 songs the way it starts, but with a more sinister keyboard spiking moments.  The lyrics are suitably disarming:

Oh, I buried my head in my hands
I buried my heart there in the sand
I was cocked, blocked, cured and charmed
I was ferociously put upon until it was clear
I should not keep on, I’ll just creep on creepin’ on

“Trouble Comes Knocking” ends the show with a slow, menacing riff with echoing synths sitting on top.  That jittery vibrating synth is there through all of the splashes of noise and menace that the echoing guitars provide.

It’s a pretty great set.  The band is really transportive live.

[READ: March 1, 2018] Otherworld

Segel and Miller’s first trilogy, Nightmares!, was terrific.  It was funny and exciting.  Frightening and yet safe enough for kids.  I absolutely loved the audiobook of it (and my daughter listens to it all the time).

I had forgotten that they were writing a new series and then I saw this book at the library.  I was curious if there was an audio book version, but I was so intrigued to read it that I didn’t even bother to look for one.  I also feel that I have Segel’s voice in my head pretty well at this point (and yet I still want to hear what he does with this collection–maybe I’ll listen to this book when the next book comes out).

In an interview with Segel and Miller they said that the biggest difference between writing a kids book and a YA book was that they didn’t have to censor themselves as much. That’s true here.  The language isn’t over the top, but there are a few four letter words thrown in.  The biggest difference is that since the main characters are teenagers, they talk about sex (a little) and the violence they experience is a bit more gruesome.  But otherwise it reads a lot like Nightmares did–a great combination of fast plotting and intriguing ideas mixed with some (dark) humor. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEDOUINE-Tiny Desk Concert #737 (April 30, 2018).

Bedouine has a lovely clear voice.  She’s a genuine folk throwback treasure, without being retro.  Her songs are remarkably simple and yet they are rich and almost enchanting.  There is something about the way she sings that makes you want to listen, to lean in and hear what she has to say.

Her guitar playing is also very pretty.  Again, a reasonably simple finger-picking style.  but it is simultaneously precise and warm.

I saw her live recently and she held an entire club rapt despite being an opening act for two much louder bands.  So who is Bedouine?

Azniv Korkejian is Bedouine, a singer and acoustic guitarist who echoes sounds from the 1960’s North American folk songwriters, but with vocal inflections that feel closer to Leonard Cohen than to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez.  This is as spare as music can be – songs stripped to their essence and just gorgeous.

Azniv Korkejian was born in Aleppo Syria. Her parents were Armenian and she spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia. But a green card lottery win found her family moving to Boston and Houston. Eventually she made her way to Los Angeles with important time spent in Austin, Texas and Savannah, Ga. The name she chose, Bedouine, reflects the traveler, the wanderer in her.

She plays three songs, just her and her guitar.  The songs don’t diverge that much from each other.  She even jokes that the second song is a different song than the first one, she promises.

“One of These Days” is a pretty song that seems so optimistic because you can feel the smile in her voice as she sings.  But as with much of what she plays, there is a kind of melancholy to it.

“Solitary Daughter” opens with the same chord (and picking) but soon shifts textures. I love her delivery on this song in which she lets her voice drop a register and adds a kind of Laura Marling spoken word style to part of it.

The middle third is just stunning

I don’t need the walls
to bury my grave
I don’t need your company
to feel saved
I don’t need the sunlight
My curtains don’t draw
I don’t need objects
to keep or to pawn
I don’t want your pity
Concern or your scorn
I’m calm by my lonesome
I feel right at home
And when the wind blows
I get to dancing
My fun is the rhythm of air
When it’s prancing

“Nice and Quiet” is an intimate love song, but one tinged with sadness.  It has such a charming and sweet melody, which really sums up her music pretty well.

[READ: March 5, 2018] The Prince and the Dressmaker

Jen Wang is back with an outstanding book.  I absolutely love her drawing style.  The look of her dressmaker, Frances, is just adorable.  I love her clothes, I especially love her face, which is cartoony but not caricature-y.  The prince’s nose is huge but not overtly comical and adds a distinctive element to the story.

But what makes this book stand out even more than the art is the story.

The Prince is holding a ball.  When the scene pans back we see horse-drawn carriages.  In other words, the time is sort of nebulously olde.  The women are dressed fancy, with petticoats.  There is much stress around town because all the young women wish to go to the ball.

A woman storms into a couture shop with a mud-covered dress.  Her daughter decided to play in the dress and it is ruined.  Can then makes something for her in time?  Frances is available and the owner gives her the job. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I might be one of the few people in America to have never read anything by James Patterson.  Well, C. really enjoyed this series (and his other books for young readers) so we decided to listen to this on a car ride. (Both kids had seen the film already, although I hadn’t).

I have to say that right off the bat I was turned off by the introduction of this book because there was this hard rocking guitar that they played through about 3 minutes of opening text.  And it was too loud!  It was really hard to hear the narrator.  I kind of tuned out because I feared that the whole book would feature this (it doesn’t).  And while I won’t say I was confused by what I missed, I did wonder if I’d missed some things that were revealed later (also, some of the main character’s motivation).

Rafe Khatchadorian is starting Hills Village Middle School.  It’s a new school (sixth grade).  Rafe seems to have a hard to succeeding in school in general.  There’s also a lot going on at home.  His mom has been dating a jerk named Bear.  Bear is unemployed, and living with them while Rafe’s mom is working two jobs and is hardly ever home.

The only person who seems to help Rafe cope with things is his friend Leo the Silent.  Leo doesn’t talk much, but he is an awesome artist.  And he also encourages Rafe to do things that maybe he shouldn’t.

When Rafe arrives at school, he is given a rule book with over 100 rules that he must follow.  Given the possibility of hanging out, being good and following the rules or having fun and enjoying school, he and Leo make a choice.  And they come up with “Operation R.A.F.E.” (which stands for Rules Aren’t For Everyone).  The operation is set up like a video game.  Rafe is going to try to break every rule in the handbook. Leo will award him points.  But he will also only have three “lives,” which he will lose if he gets caught or otherwise fails in his quest. (more…)

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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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